The idea seems to be great: a five-piece New Orleans funk band breaks out with an album where they back a selection of rappers. Galactic has been rattling around for a while, but now would seem to be the moment—they’ve been touring with all the Quannum crew, and they also recently backed Juvenile in a Jimmy Kimmel appearance. So why is this album so unsatisfying?
It’s not because Galactic isn’t a hot funk band, because they are. Start with Robert Mercurio’s bass and Jeff Raines’ guitar; dudes have been playing together for more than 15 years (they are apparently both originally D.C. punks), and their instruments twist and turn around each other with pointillist precision. Stanton Moore is a versatile drummer, as at home with psychedelic rock beats as with second-line swing. Ben Ellman’s saxophone work is a bit more convincing than his harmonica, but he keeps it basic and tight. Round it off with crucial keyboardist Richard Vogel and you have one bad-ass band.
Some of the tracks here demonstrate this bad-assery in an almost off-handed way. “Hustle Up”, featuring Boots Riley from the Coup, is a big fat slab of early Funkadelic, perfect for Riley’s distinctive flow. The opening track, “I Got It (What You Need)”, was made for Lyrics Born and his off-kilter stream-of-consciousness freestyle. And the title track, which adds the Soul Rebels Brass Band as well as Juvenile, brews up a whole fat slab of Crescent City for us. (Man, Juve sounds hot here. Maybe he should think about hooking up with Galactic on a more permanent basis.)
But the songs are only as good as Galactic’s choice of collaborator. The tepid offering from “conscious” indie star Mr. Lif, “...And I’m Out”, is all over the place but goes exactly nowhere, as do the tracks with Chali 2na and Ladybug Mecca. (Man, I used to love these people as rappers. Was I wrong, or have they both just fallen off the table like a drunk uncle?) Gift of Gab barely survives his track due to a great showoff section when most of the band falls out and he just goes against drums and guitar stabs. The jury is still out on the Lateef track, “No Way”—it’s great slow funk, but a three-minute song should not seem like it lasts for ten minutes.
Other tracks here indicate a possible future breakthrough for Galactic. “Tuff Love”, a collaboration with someone named Trombone Shorty, is immensely digable because trombones are always awesome, and because the mid-song breakdown is just flat-out nasty. And when they pull in Big Chief Monk Boudreaux for “Second and Dryades”, they work some kind of Meters/Neville Bros./Fats Domino NoLa voudou on the track.
Maybe Galactic is best as just an instrumental band, or maybe they need a new vocalist (the last one split a couple of years ago), or maybe they just need to pick more interesting hip-hop artists to work with. Any way you slice it, though, this album just isn’t getting it done.