GEORGE CLINTON, the founder and mastermind behind the Parliament/Funkadelic Troupe, has released his first album under his own name: "Computer Games" (Capitol ST-12246). Using the same singers and players, "Computer Games" is not very different from a Parliament or Funkadelic record, but it is the best effort from this ensemble in several years. It also brings funk forward into the microchip era.
Taking his cue for the album title, producer Clinton brings his synthesizer wizards Junie Morrison and Bernie Worrell to the foreground. Morrison and Worrell bring a liquid, wriggling feel to the music that sounds more sensual and less mechanical than their synth-funk counterparts in Europe. Clinton the lyricist and singer uses video game references to poke witty, affectionate fun at the computer age. At a time when European bands often play funk with a martial goose step and American bands often play it with hollow macho bravado, Clinton reminds us that three-fourths of funk is fun.
On his 12-minute hit single, "Loopzilla," Clinton and his P-Funk Mob chew up old songs like "Dancing in the Streets" and new songs like "Planet Rock" and digest them into their own big computerized groove. On one level, this proves that no matter how dance music seems to change, it's all part of the same cycle (or "Loopzilla," if you will).
On a deeper level, the song illustrates that the new technology doesn't have to mechanize or simplify dance music. Clinton proves that the spirit of classic Motown can coexist with buzzing synthesizers. Unlike the streamlined synth-funk and rap artists, Clinton crams melodies, counter-melodies, guitar solos, horn arrangements, vocal harmonies and a lot else into his songs without ever dropping the beat.
Clinton also proves that the animal instincts of the best funk can survive in the new technology. He uses canine metaphors for the instincts of lust and playfulness on his new album. "Atomic Dog," the album's best tune, barks out a big dance beat that should wag anyone's tail. Between vocorder woofs, Clinton asks himself, "Why must I chase the cat?" and answers, "It's the dog in me."
Few performers other than Prince's Minnesota mafia and Bootsy's Ohio gang can play the funk with the spirit and wit of Clinton's P-Funk Mob. Most of America's big funk bands play it safer and stick to the tried-and-true mainstream virtues of Earth, Wind & Fire. Among the best of these mainstream funk bands are Chic, Slave and Con Funk Shun.
Chic, the most talented band to emerge in the disco era, has moved toward funk ever since that era ended. It made that shift easily because it has one of the tightest rhythm sections in pop music and two smart songwriter-producers in Nile Rodgers & Bernard Edwards. Chic has a brighter sound than most funk bands with Rogers' choppy guitar chords ringing out and Edwards' bass notes sharply defined rather than fuzzing together. With its concise rhythmic workouts, Chic seems the Booker T & the MGs of the '80s.
"Tongue in Chic" (Atlantic 80031-1) is the third Chic album of 1982. While the playing is as sharp as ever, the songwriting is not nearly as strong as last spring's "Take It Off" or last summer's soundtrack, "Soup for One." Rogers & Edwards always come up with good rhythm licks but seem to have run out of memorable melodies.
Slave's new album, "Visions of the Lite" (Cotillion 90024-1), also is a disappointment compared to 1981's wonderful "Showtime." This time out, producer-songwriters Mark Adams, Floyd Miller and Danny Webster have written nothing as catchy as the 1981 hits, "Snapshot" and "Wait for Me." Adapting to the times, Slave has given Marvin Wheatley's synthesizers a new prominence, and he gives every song an ionic shine. Yet everything is a bit too polished with no sharp edges to stick to the memory. The best cut is the horn-brightened pop ditty, "I'll Be Gone."
Much better is Con Funk Shun's "To the Max" (Mercury SRM-1-4067). This San Francisco septet breathes new life into the classic funk approach of throbbing bass, sharp-turning horns and choral chants. Its melodies are strong enough to sustain two enchanting ballads--"Everlove" and "Love's Train"--with anchoring harmonies tugging at the high-flying falsetto vocals. On the uptempo funkers, the band avoids the monotony of a continuous groove with sharp breaks in the momentum; the horns and synthesizers trade off in the foreground to create welcome changes in texture. "Take It to the Max" and "Ain't Nobody, Baby" are especially strong cuts as the band keeps changing the top of the song, while the compelling rhythmic bottom never lets up.
The Brothers Johnson have tried to revive their faltering career by sticking four new songs with six of their greatest hits on a new album, "Blast: The Latest and the Greatest" (A&M SP-4927). The liner notes reveal a split in the ranks. Louis Johnson does not appear on the two new songs written by brother George, and George appears on only one of the two new songs by Louis. Louis gets the best of the comparison, as he returns to the lively funk of the duo's 1976 debut album. Louis' autobiographical tale, "Funk It (Funkadelala)," is a contagious boogie number and the album's highlight. His "Welcome to the Club," the new single, is not quite as melodic, but is just as danceable with strong horn charts. George's two songs are the kind of bland, washed-out pop-soul that has afflicted the duo's recent releases. The six oldies are an odd choice since they omit the duo's delightful 1976 cover of the Beatles' "Come Together" and the Brothers' big 1978 hit, "Ride-o-Rocket."