This article previously appeared on Crossfader
Favorite Songs: “Set Trip,” “Type Two,” “69,” “All In,” “Proof is in the Pudding,” “On Fire”
George Clinton’s brain child Parliament got their start in the late ‘60s and had their biggest hits in the mid-to-late ‘70s, making legendary jams like “Flash Light” and padding the careers of musicians like Bootsy Collins and Bernie Worrell. Subsequent generations of musicians borrowed quite a bit from this period of music, both in its flamboyant use on synthesizers and subtler aspects like the widened range of vocal delivery styles made popular by funk vocalists. Interestingly, on Clinton’s latest, MEDICAID FRAUD DOGG, we get to see this influence wrap around back towards its origins; some of the tracks seem like they gained as much from listening to early ‘90s West Coast G-Funk as G-Funk was gained from listening to and sampling earlier Parliament-era funk, as heard through the keyboard work on tracks like “Kool Aid” and “Loodie Poo Da Pimp”.
MEDICAID FRAUD DOGG, as the first album in nearly 40 years from George Clinton’s legendary Parliament collective, had a lot of questions to answer: Would it be the old Parliament sound, assuming we can even pin down what that was? Would it try to be current?
Parliament, it seems, decided to try everything, and I mean everything—the album is two hours of music. From song to song it’s hard to describe where the mothership landed in terms of genre, or even decade. Some instrumentation seems clearly retro: beautiful jazzy lines by a trumpet played through a mute, synth leads and organs returned from their ‘70s and ‘80s slumber (“Loodie Poo da Pimp,” “Set Trip”).
Overall, MEDICAID FRAUD DOGG is a big success, a mix of jazz, funk, and hip hop that’s more groove-centric than TO PIMP A BUTTERFLY or AUGUST GREENE and less heady than The Robert Glasper Experiment, but no less intricate or intentional. Standout elements of the Parliament collective give commanding performances across the entire album. The tasteful trumpet and saxophone licks really make tracks like “All In” and “Proof is in the Pudding,” and the female vocals were consistently magic on the album, from pristine background harmonies to commanding main lines (“On Fire”). The album even features an interesting three-and-a-half-minute, stream-of-consciousness spoken word introspection about the corrupting influence of social media (“Anti-Social Media”).
Not everything on the album was great, though—no wonder, for an album with 23 tracks. Our journey on the mothership takes a bizarre turn around track five, “Oil Jones.” I guess this song is what you get when, in 2018, you look back on Kanye West’s “Workout Plan” and think “that was a great idea” (it wasn’t). Other songs on the album similarly seemed like they were trying to match current sounds beat-for-beat; when I heard “Backwoods” or “Mama Told Me,” I had to double-check to make sure I hadn’t hit shuffle on accident. Nothing wrong with trying different modern stylings out, but there didn’t seem to be any effort to make the tracks fit with the rest on the album.
Overall though, Parliament gave us a great, exciting new album. Time will tell if some of the experiments tried out here serve as proof of concept for riskier but potentially thrilling new directions in the increasingly collaborative worlds of funk, jazz, and hip hop. But for now: Get on the mothership.