Happy Friday, everyone! I actually made a concerted effort to read a lot of comics this past week. So of course I’m going to spend the biggest chunk of my time talking about an album that came out last winter from one of my favourite bands of all time. Because I get to do what I want here, and I like that.
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First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate: An Excess of Excess
I’ve been taking a few weeks to really listen to and digest First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate, the first Funkadelic album of all-new material in over 33 years. I absolutely adore George Clinton, though my interests lie primarily in the 1970s P-Funk era. His wide-ranging musical tastes include doo-wop, rock and roll, soul, and R&B, and he’s influenced so many musical acts over the past 30 years that even if one has never listened to Funkadelic or Parliament, their music still sounds instantly familiar. The man is a huge inspiration and full of excess both musically and in real life, so I was both excited and hesitant to see what he could do on a triple album with all the production effects that have been developed since the 1980s. Unsurprisingly, at over 200 minutes of music, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, but gloriously so. It’s very hip-hop and R&B-inspired, far different than the rock sounds of prime 1970s Funkadelic that I’m a fan of, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. And yes, some of the album’s 33 tracks seem a little self-indulgent, but this is George Clinton, damn it, and if the man wants to be self-indulgent then I say let him, he’s earned it. There’s also a lot of auto-tune on the album, which I think Clinton overuses, but it’s a fairly new toy so I can see why he would be excited to play with it even though it really overwhelms some of the songs.
I’ve been taking a few listens through each of the discs before I make any judgements on the songs, as there are so many different sounds and genres that it can take me a little while to get acclimatized to them. The first disc is full of highs and lows, so I’m going to focus on the highs. I really enjoy the smooth “Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You?” and the G-funk groove of “Radio Friendly,” which is a little cognitively dissonant — Clinton homaging a genre that is itself an homage to Clinton — but it works. “Mathematics of Love” is a long track with some nice soul touches, and “Creases” has a rap by Del the Funky Homosapien that references He-Man villains like Man-E-Faces and Trap Jaw, so I’m all in on that one.
The second disc is probably the most solid of the whole album, with a lot of tracks that make me want to shake it all over the place. “Jolene” has a great hard guitar riff as a backbone, a sound that reminds me of the old 1970s Funkadelic in the best way. “Dirty Queen” is a rap-metal song which makes me strangely happy, while “You Can’t Unring The Bell” is a hip-hop/funk number with a solid groove and some killer drum and horn samples. “Pole Power” is a stripped-down funky number with a sexy groove and killer hook, and “As In” is a cover of a Bootsy Collins song I’ve admittedly never heard, but it is sung soulfully and wonderfully by the late Jessica Cleaves. This disc also features the most unexpected track on the album: a cover of The Four Tops’ “Bernadette” that at first rubbed me entirely the wrong way but ultimately I found to be one of the album’s most re-listenable songs.
I’m just now starting to delve into the third disc of the collection but there are definitely some great tracks already. “The Naz” features a really cool little groove that never fails to get my tailbone a-shaking, but really, the majority of the song is just special guest Sly Stone rambling all over the place. Plus, just the idea of a Funkadelic track with Sly Stone on it makes me happy beyond explanation. Some of the guitar work and vocal additions remind me of Frank Zappa and The Mothers, which is definitely not a bad thing. And the next three songs in a row — “Talking To The Wall,” ”Where Would I Go?” and “Yesterdejavu” — sound just like they could have appeared on a ’70s P-Funk album, if one could strip away a few of the modern production touches.
I’m aware that I took four paragraphs on a comics website to talk about a funk album that probably appeals to nobody but me. And that’s why I’m so glad Brandon and James give me this opportunity. Because if literally one other person checks out even one track from this album, then it will all have been worth it. First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate, and then you gotta go back to listen to Maggot Brain and Standing On the Verge of Getting it On and Let’s Take It To The Stage. At least, that’s what I’d recommend.
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Comics: I have read a lot of comic books in the past week, but most of them have fallen around the “acceptable” range, give or take a few points, which makes it hard for me to wholeheartedly recommend them to anyone. (The really good ones were sadly recorded for an upcoming Scotch & Comics episode, which is actually happening, no joke, but I don’t want to pre-review them here.) One chunk of comics that I can nearly wholeheartedly recommend are the first three volumes of Ultimate Fantastic Four. The story collected in the first volume, “Fantastic,” written by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar with pencils by Adam Kubert and inks by Danny Miki and John Dell, is extremely skim (or skip) worthy. It sets up the Ultimate origin of the FF and their first encounter with the Mole Man, a story that takes six issues to do when it could probably been much more exciting to read over three. The art is okay, with a few really interesting passages, but otherwise I feel the real meat of these issues is in the “Doom” storyline, in volume two. This is the jewel of the series, written by Warren Ellis and art by Stuart Immonen and Wade von Grawbadger. This team really gets a handle on this younger and more vibrant take on the Fantastic Four: all the characters talk in more or less Ellis-toned dialogue, but it works for these young brash people, especially Ben Grimm. Honestly, Ellis’ take on The Thing is so fantastic it makes me wish he could write another FF story with the non-Ultimate versions of the characters. “N-Zone,” the story in the third volume, is once again illustrated by Kubert and a host of inkers, and while I don’t think his art is nearly as good a fit for Ellis’ story, it’s got a fantastic Ben Grimm, so I’m willing to overlook it. Maybe it’s just because I have an Ellis soft spot, but the second and third volume of Ultimate Fantastic Four feel youthful and vibrant even though they were first published over 10 years ago.
Books: Sometimes a book ends up being both more and less than I think it’s going to be. Giving Up the Ghost: A Story About Friendship, 80s Rock, a Lost Scrap of Paper, and What It Means to Be Haunted was initially billed as combination memoir and travelogue, as author Eric Nuzum examines his youth, where he believed he was haunted by a ghost and started mentally falling apart, by exploring the ghost subcultures of modern America. It’s a little less complicated than that, actually. Nuzum does technically explore both of those ideas, but they’re not terribly well integrated. His accounts of his visits — to a highway that’s the centre of dozens of ghost stories, meetings with spiritualists, and a ghost tour through a haunted prison — are faintly interesting but don’t really lend much colour or depth to the exploration of his past. About three-fifths of the way through the book he drops those adventures entirely, and when he does the book becomes a far more gripping beast. His past is the much more interesting story, and the reason to read the book. Nuzum did not have an easy youth, whether it was being haunted by repeated dreams of a dead girl whose ghost lived in his spare room, or his tragic relationship with a young friend, or his substance abuse problems and subsequent mental breakdown. That’s the story that I appreciated the most, a man opening up and being raw and honest (as honest as he could be) about the horrors he’s lived through and how long he’s been haunted by that past. It gets extremely bleak and melodramatic, but that’s what being an adolescent was like for Nuzum (and many others), and when he finally gets to his lowest point I realized that his bleak and melodramatic tone may have been under-selling it. That’s when the book became more than I expected — the depth of emotion and exploration Nuzum dedicates to this horrible time in his life made that story so much more compelling than I had imagined it would be. Giving Up The Ghost would have been a much shorter book if he had done away with the framing device and it was just a memoir, but I’m sure that would have been a much harder book to get published, so I appreciate that I got to read the story at all.
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That’s all for me this week. Until next time, try to get a little funk on you. It’s a good look, I promise. I’ll see you in seven days.