“There are eight billion tales in the naked universe/This is just one of them/But… they all have black holes.” With these illustrious words – ostensibly scientific, possibly profane, and undisputedly funky, George Clinton commenced Parliament’s final album of the 1970s, Gloryhallastoopid (Or Pin the Tail on the Funky). Tasked with following the triumphant undersea saga of Motor Booty Affair (not to mention the storied sequence of concept recordings that preceded it), Gloryhallastoopid found Parliament exploring the inception of the cosmos as an allegory for its own beginnings and the roots of funk.
It’s a typically ambitious premise, and from the musical side an especially intriguing one given the context. In 1979 disco was still the prevailing style of the moment, though a fierce backlash was brewing. Indeed, that same year, Parliament’s fraternal twin outfit Funkadelic answered its own call to “rescue dance music from the blahs” with a certifiable anthem, “(Not Just) Knee Deep.” Nothing from Gloryhallastoopid ascends to that transcendent single’s heights. But there’s still plenty of quality, and in its best moments assuredly encapsulates all the classic P-Funk elements.
The “Mothership Connection”-esque title track once again finds Clinton’s narrative stand-in Starchild (accompanied by a new voice character, Wellington Wigout) setting the scene pre-Big Bang “from deep in the black hole,” with a nonsensical backwards recorded mid-section representing the thematic rewind of sorts. A template for the boogie-funk Roger Troutman’s Zapp would soon popularize, “Theme From the Black Hole” doubles down on the risqué rear view puns (e.g. “a toast to the booty… to the rear, march”) amidst taunts from nemesis Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk. “The Big Bang Theory” abandons exposition entirely in favor of pure groove, yielding a horn-and-synth led instrumental so hot it concludes with sci-fi sound effects that suggest the explosion that started it all.
For the first time in a while, however, there’s also what feels conspicuously like filler. “Party People’s” four-on-the-floor stomp is probably as close to a disposable disco groove as Parliament ever got and stretches on for nearly ten minutes. “The Freeze (Sizzlaeenmean),” is a welcome throwback to James Brown’s early ’70s extended early funk workouts, but lacks the tension and urgency that made those JB grooves so undeniable.
Rotating players and personnel changes within the group may have been a contributing factor (keyboard wizard Bernie Worrell has no writing credits, and his presence feels palpably diminished). But if anything Gloryhallastoopid is a victim of the inordinately high bar, musically and conceptually, P-Funk set for itself throughout the decade. Any other funk group of the era would be lucky to possess a molecule of the talent required to generate “May We Bang You” – another risqué number bearing multi-instrumentalist Junie Morrison’s unmistakable stamp. It brings the cosmic extended metaphor into the bedroom and, when the song reaches its beautiful bridge, a velvety chorus croons en masse, “Love your groove.” There’s nothing in the galaxy that can touch it.