Somewhere between porn soundtracks and ‘70s funk fit the Voltaire Brothers, who have left just enough room for you to shake it to their long-delayed I Sing the Booty Electric. This record demands to be played in a hot basement to people wearing big hats, thick shoes, and quick grins. If that’s not you, it’s okay—just pretend like you belong.
Mick Collins, the primary force behind the Voltaire Brothers, has been playing one instrument or another since the early ‘80s, playing with punk and art rock acts like the Dirtbombs, the Gories, and the Blacktop. On I Sing the Booty Electric, he sings and plays guitar, harmonica, drums, and keyboard. Primary songwriter and co-founder of the group Jerome Gray adds bass and guitar. For their six tracks and 33 minutes of music, Collins and Gray jam with 15 other people, including the Reverend Minister Doctor Overseer Jamaal Shabazz X.
The first Voltaire believed that “history is nothing more than a tableau of crimes and misfortunes”, but the Brothers believe that the history of funk is a tableau of grooves and bass lines worth repeating. Much of this album sounds as if it could have been produced 30 years ago, with George Clinton and Bootsy (not Mick) Collins in charge. The first track, “The Mother Ones”, rides on a mid-tempo dance beat that serves to set the tone for what is to follow. It’s the song you’d play before the party has started—you’re not going to get on the floor for this one, but it will help with the mood.
Voltaire number one believed that “Anything too stupid to be said is sung”. On the second song, Collins delivers “I Sing the Booty Electric”. The song (and the allusion) are stupid, but it doesn’t matter. The booty electric is worth singing, and this bass and organ number will set it to shaking, too. The Voltaire Brothers have given us the best tribute to the butt since “Baby Got Back”.
When Voltaire said, “Judge of a man by his questions rather than by his answers”, Collins and Gray responded with “Which One”, a piece reminiscent of the late Temptations. This slow jam lingers for nearly 8 minutes, deadening the middle of the album. I’d rather not judge the Voltaire brothers by their questions, or my decision would be unnecessarily harsh. Instead, I’ll hit the skip button to “Funky Motion”, a cover of the Roy Ayres song. As the title suggests, the Voltaire Brothers bring the funk back on this track, with wah wah guitar, hand claps, and smooth vocals. As Voltaire said, “[Appreciation] makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well”. Covering “Funky Motion” well enables the group to reinforce its connection to the past and pay a more direct tribute to its influences.
Track five, I’m ashamed to report, is titled “Transparabolicwobblemegatronicthangmabutylspasmotickryptorumpalistics (a.k.a. Siege of the Booty Chirren)”. Someone should have seized this title before it got halfway to its “thang”. If, as our favorite satirist said, “A witty saying proves nothing”, then a half-wit song name probably says that the song doesn’t have too much to give, as is the case here with the excessive robotic guitar and jabbering vocals.
All concerned Voltaires agree: “It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong”. The closing track, “Trouble Man Everyday”, is a mostly spoken-word exhortation by our aforementioned Reverend about the oppression of blacks by whites, mob aggression, and other violence. It’s an odd moment for the record, in which the politics seem to be the progressive stance of the ‘60s, which is perhaps a problem. The Voltaire Brothers have included politics in their return to the music of the past, and the anger and presentation both fall flat. The nostalgic tribute of I Sing the Booty Electric can’t (or at least doesn’t) function as a forward thinking political statement when the politics are as dated as the music.
On about half of their album, the Voltaire Brothers have created some enjoyable funk, fun as both dance and reference material. Had they cut a couple of the weaker songs, Collins and Gray could have made a tight EP (and given it perhaps the longest title ever). As it stands now I Sing the Booty Electric entertains, but doesn’t really make much of a mark in funk. Perhaps the good grooves can help us to “love truth, and pardon error”, as the cleverest Voltaire once said.