Was (Not Was): Boo!

Let’s hope it’s not another 16 years before Was (Not Was) is again.

Was (Not Was)


Label: Ryko
US Release Date: 2008-04-08
UK Release Date: 2008-04-07

If you think the crazy funk spirit of Parliament/Funkadelic is dead, or at least missing from the contemporary music scene, you obviously haven’t heard Was (Not Was). Granted, it’s been a long 16 years since the Don and David brotherly duo last blessed us with a release. But these zany guys have once again gathered together a funky group of fellow singers and players, who are always up for the down stroke.

These musicians get their freak on most of all during “Needletooth”, which sounds like a barfly trying to pick up on some unsuspecting chick. “Back when I ate cactus pie / They called me Needletooth," he announces. Only this particular barfly also speaks with treated vocals that make him sound like a robot -- to the point where most of his humorous one-liners fall completely flat. But then again, “From the Head to the Heart” is as serious as “Needletooth” is silly. It begins with: “There’s a story in the paper / About a young boy laying dead." This young man was killed, we're told, while trying to steal a TV, done in by a sharp piece of falling glass. Rather than revving up the groove, Was (Not Was) slow this latter one down to a piano-led ballad.

Although the most of this disc is smart funk, there are also many other R&B elements thrown into the mix for variety's sake. For instance, “It’s a Miracle” flows like old Chicago soul -- think the Impressions. The funk even varies from song to song, as “Your Luck Won’t Last” is the fast, stripped-down kind, sounding like ‘80s Prince music. David and Don Was had Bob Dylan’s help writing one of these songs, “Mr. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”, which -- with its flute -- comes off like Curtis Mayfield Superfly music, albeit mixed with the blues. Then there’s the spoken word “Green Pills in the Dresser”, which borrows Kris Kristofferson's drawl to tell its twisted little story.

These Was folks don’t ever sing their own songs, except for providing backing vocals. Instead, the wonderful Sweet Pea Atkinson mostly belts these tracks out, along with Sir Harry Bowens and Donald Ray Mitchell. Was-ers also employ some of L.A.’s best session musicians, including Lenny Castro (percussion) and Greg Liesz (pedal steel guitar).

Boo! can be enjoyed on a few different levels: You can listen to this work and simply dig all the fat, old school R&B musicianship. But if you’re the brainy sort, you can alternately try and figure out exactly happens in the story of “Semi-Interesting Week”, or speculate on the political implications of “Crazy Water”. Either way, you’ll find plenty enough food for thought and feet.

Boo! is not, by the way, filled with scary music. Sure, there’s a little death in “It’s a Miracle” and “From the Head to the Heart”. But it is mostly of the real life sort, and not at all anything supernatural. Then again, human nature can be a pretty frightening thing, and much of this music dredges up the dregs of so-called civil society.

The problem with Was (Not Was) is that Don Was is an in-demand producer. This doesn’t actually hurt Was (Not Was)'s music; it just keeps him from teaming with his brother and making wonderful CDs like Boo!. So let’s hope production duties slow down and it’s not another 16 years before Was (Not Was) is again.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

Here comes another Kompakt Pop Ambient collection to make life just a little more bearable.

Another (extremely rough) year has come and gone, which means that the German electronic music label Kompakt gets to roll out their annual Total and Pop Ambient compilations for us all.

Keep reading... Show less

Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.