Funkadelic – First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate (2014)

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“Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You” might be the perfect reintroduction of George Clinton (instead of Funkadelic, per se) since it begins with a darkly ingratiating embrace rather that the expected turn-this-mother-out groove.

That’s George Clinton, the master of left turns. At the same time, “Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You” — this standout moment from Funkadelic’s sprawling new comeback effort First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate — stirs in a few distinctly modern elements: There’s the flinty braggadocio of “I was hard when I started, I’ll be hard when I get through,” and those rollicking Roland 808s.

That very newness works as a kind of comfy oldness when it comes to Clinton, who has stayed firmly within an established framework of forward-looking trippy weirdness over the course of myriad lineup shifts and stylistic leaps by Parliament/Funkadelic and an assortment of other similarly named outfits. Clinton keeps himself young that way, it seems.

Always moving, always searching, he’s apparently been recording songs for First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate throughout the lengthy silence between Funkadelic albums. As such, it’s all over the map. In fact, there is no map. Like “Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You,” First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate is offbeat, within and without expectations, somehow throwback and yet modern, maybe a bit too long.

Along the way, Funkadelic often doesn’t sound like Funkadelic at all, as George Clinton dabbles deeply in hip hop, even as they reference earlier triumphs that have more to do with Clinton’s broader discography. (High points include “Baby Like Fonkin’ It Up,” a nod toward “Mr. Wiggles” by Parliament; and “I Mo B Yodog Fo Eva,” perhaps the best take off here on Clinton’s own “Atomic Dog.”) They get into a T-Pain vibe (“Snot n’ Booger”), even while paying their fonky respects to James Brown (“Pole Power”) and covering the Four Tops (“Bernadette”).

The names (as per usual) change again, with familiar figures like Michael Hampton and Bernie Worrell making a rare appearance on “Yesterdejavu,” a guitar-focused track that most closely recalls classic Funkadelic. But how cool is the idea of Clinton joining forces with Sly Stone, as on “The Naz”? He also welcomes in an old friend in the late Jessica Cleaves of the Friends of Distinction, for a remake of “As In” — a tune from Bootsy’s Rubberband.

And so it goes over an astounding 33 songs — mirroring the 33 years since Funkadelic offered its last official release, 1981’s The Electric Spanking of War Babies — as George Clinton and Company create a multi-dimensional, almost exhaustively comprehensive return. It all might have been better served with a judicious edit or 10. It all might not make sense, it all might not be required listening and it all certainly isn’t funkin’ kinda hard. It might have been better titled as a Clinton solo album, too. But First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate is rarely less than interesting, and often brain-bendingly fun.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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