Masters of the Form: Parliament, 1976 – The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein

What exactly should a musician do after he and his band have recorded and released a masterpiece of musicianship and storytelling? What should he do if this masterpiece had, almost immediately upon its release, begun to change the musical landscape of the day, clearly casting the band as Masters of the Form? Basically, what should musicians do after they’ve landed a mothership? Well, if you were George Clinton and the members of Parliament you would just “go back and get more of that funky stuff” and release an amazing sequel.

Mothership Connection was a musical game changer that made Parliament funk superstars, and they didn’t even wait a year to release its follow-up. The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein, released a mere seven months after its predecessor, was something completely new in the world of popular music — a second chapter, part two of the trilogy that Mothership Connection had begun, and it deepened the Parliament mythology.

Amidst its swirl of horns and thumping base, Mothership Connection had introduced Starchild, a hero of interplanetary funksmanship that was their standard bearer of freedom in a world of repression. Cloaked in clever wordplay the album was a deceptively political vehicle. The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein follows the science fiction plot, but transforms it into an almost religious tale of revisionist history. “Prelude” reveals that the secrets of funk, and all the freedom that funk music implies, was brought to earth “Funk upon a time”, but was hidden in the pyramids until people could develop a better attitude. The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein is the story of the return of the chosen one, Dr. Funkenstein, and his quest to create clones of himself that are “endowed with the conceivement of true groove”.

The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein is often considered a watered down version of its predecessor, more accessible and less political. While it is true that the album’s music could be considered less challenging than the groundbreaking grooves of Mothership Connection, it is also true that the ground had already been broken. The album is accessible to be certain, but it never sounds like the work of a band that’s sold out. It is an album recorded by a band that has sold. Mothership Connection was recorded by Parliament; The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein was recorded by the superstars that had released Mothership Connection, and if their success had informed the music, it also informed the ease with which listeners flowed through the album as though they themselves were notes that had been written expressly for it.

The same could be said for the album’s politics. Once again, the political message is easy to miss, woven within quick one-liners that are blatantly funny enough to trick the casual listener into thinking that they aren’t serious at all. However, The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein isn’t truly less political than Mothership Connection, it simply has less politics. Mothership Connection had been a study in the politics of “us vs. them”, detailing the struggle between those that desired freedom (us) and those that wished to keep such freedom repressed (them). The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein is only concerned with the first half of the equation, the freedom fighters rather than the fight for freedom.

Chief amongst these fighters is the good doctor himself, the chosen one broadcasting from the mothership, who is “preoccupied and dedicated to the preservation of the motion of hips”. “Dr. Funkenstein” is his formal introduction, and the track is nearly six minutes of hilarity floating along leisurely on a river of bass and horns. The song is laid back, bordering on slow, almost lacking in propulsion, but it keeps moving forward, all tortoise no hare, slow and steady with a Bootsy Collins bass line that is the very definition of simple addiction. Equally addictive are the lyrics, a nonstop barrage of punch lines about kissing people’s egos, hitting them in the protons, ego trippin’, body snatchin’, and being hit with “the one” over and over again and how curative all of it is. As Dr. Funkenstein himself sings, “The say the bigger the headache the bigger the pill / They call me the big pill”.

The paradoxical laid-back urgency is continued on “Children of Productions”. The children of production are the clones themselves, the freedom fighters, the “us”. The song is the album’s most blatant political statement, speaking directly to a young segment of society who have been brainwashed into accepting complacency by “them”. The Children of Production recognize the need to “blow the cobwebs from your mind”, they are a timebomb “and almost everyone is out of time”, but they are “a flawless testimony to the attainment of the P. Funk”. They, the youth, the “us”, represent the world’s best hope and they are ready for any challenge they might be thrown. “Do That Stuff” is an unrepentant party song that marvels at just how intensely they party, coaxing the listener to party as well, while bathing in a pool of warm horns and an excessively heavy bass line. “Everything Is on the One” is a declaration of purpose that substitutes the defiance of Mothership Connection‘s “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off)” with a joyful confidence.

This joyful confidence is a musical constant throughout The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein. Parliament began 1976 eager to pick what they viewed as an inevitable fight; they ended the year willing to patiently wait for the battle to come. On Mothership Connection Parliament had been confident enough to be bold, but on The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein they were bold enough to simply be confident. The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein isn’t watered down, it just isn’t angry. As the album closer suggests, the album is “just funking around for fun”. This carefree fun wouldn’t last long, though. In a year’s time, these Masters of the Form would see an enemy emerge and prove the power of the P. Funk once and for all.