AFTER a spring and summer of inactivity, the Parliament-Funkadelic mob is back on the scene with six albums by its members and alumni. Like Motown in its heyday, group leader George Clinton's forces have a distinctive sound, and each P-Funk act does a variation on that signature style.
The key to the sound is its playfulness. Clinton's professed philosophy, "silly-seriousness," punctures the pretensions that doom most hybird music. The bottom is never raunchy or pushy, just bouncy and contagious. The guitar and keyboard players never show off, but squeak and wriggle in the background to create a liquid feel.
"Wynne Jammin'" (Uncle Jam JZ 36843) features the funk mob's most classic voice: the rich tenor of former Spinner Philippe Wynne. He releases notes with a resounding boom, ony to have them trail off into a soft purr. On his new album, the satin sophistication of Philadelphia soul meets the wired weirdness of Funkadelic soul.
The album's most ambitious adventure is the 12-minute opener, "Never Gonna Tell It." Wynne's bouyant voice floats atop the turbulent waters of Bernie Worrell's synthesizers and Clinton's choir for 10 minutes. At the end Clinton's guitar army of Hendrix heirs comes buzzing out of the background to overwhelm the vocals.
The rest of the record becomes more traditional as Wynne dominates. Side two resurrects that heavily echoed sound of Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On." Like Gaye, Wynne uses the echoing congas, ghostly harmonies and stretched rhythms to make the music sound very private indeed.
William "Bootsy" Collins has taken the "silly-serious" approach to funk and put the emphasis on silly. He likes to use "Star Wars" sound effects and melodies so simple and bouncy they could be nursery rhymes. In fact, he often works fragments of nursery rhymes into his extended songs. Over his squeaky synthesizer and throbbing "space bass," Collins half-sings and half-raps a steady stream of schoolyard slang and his own invented lingo. It's a formula he's used in the past, and he repeats it on his fifth Bootsy album, "Ultra Wave" (Warner Brothers BSK 3433).
Collins' records are the least interesting P-Funk efforts. They sound overly contrived and fall into repeated figures that go on much too long. The Bootsy sound dominates "Zapp" (Warner Brothers BSK 3463), which Collins co-produced with Roger Troutman. The Zapp group, led by Troutman and his three brothers, makes synthesizers sound truly synthetic.
Though there are vocals in the background, "The Sweat Band" (Uncle Jam JZ 36857), which Collins produced, is basically an instrumental showcase. Collins, Gary Shider and Mike Hampton are all wild rock-'n'-roll guitarists who often get obscured in the thick P-Funk sound mix. "Hyper Space" and "Body Shape" give them some room to stretch out. Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker have been premier soul horn players since their days with James Brown, and lead the way on the album's more commercial party music.
Two key P-Funk members have gone off to record on their own. Drummer Jerome Brailey called his new band Mutiny and attacked Clinton in his liner notes and lyrics. Keyboardist Walter "Junie" Morrison, by contrast, continued to work on the upcoming Parliament and Funkadelic albums as he finished his own LP outside the family.
Mutiny's second album, "Funk Plus the One" (Columbia JC 36597), suffers from the same problems as the first. The bottom rhythm churned up by Brailey is irresistibly solid. But the lead guitars and keyboards are largely unimaginative. Brailey's pompous, put-down vocals cast a negative shadow on everything.
Morrison's new solo album, "Bread Alone" (Columbia NJC 36585), is delightful. His warmly romantic voice makes the songs appealing, and his squishy, spongy synthesizer keeps them interesting. Morrison's "Love Has Taken Me Over" and "Bread Alone" boast catchier melodies than any other song on these six albums. Morrison and Wynne have tamed the brilliant but wild P-Funk process, deepening and prolonging the proven pleasures of old-fashioned soul.