As Parliament progressed through the 70s, its capacity for building immersive worlds within its own funk-centric musical universe grew increasingly sophisticated. There may be no better example of this ability to go deep, as it were, than the aquatic-themed Motor Booty Affair. Where Parliament’s previous concept-driven efforts, Chocolate City, Mothership Connection, The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein, and Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome, respectively explored self-governance, space, science, and self-actualization as paths to utopian echelons, Motor Booty Affair looks to the ocean, specifically the legend of the submerged lost ancient civilization of Atlantis.
The storyline roughly follows that of Funkentelechy, with recurring protagonist Starchild again facing off against his nemesis Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk. But where Starchild’s erstwhile goal was to make Sir Nose succumb to the funk by dancing, here he attempts to lure him into an underwater manifestation of rhythm, expression, and liberation: swimming. Along the way, new sea-life characters are introduced (e.g. the narrator Mr. Wiggles, Sir Nose’s uptight minion Rumpofsteelskin, a play-by-play announcer Howard Codsell). The most important new cast member, however, is behind-the-scenes: the brilliant former Ohio Players singer and multi-instrumentalist Walter “Junie” Morrison (here under the pseudonym J.S. Theracon, and at the time doing double duty as an indispensable contributor to Funkadelic’s concurrently released One Nation Under a Groove).
Junie’s presence adds humor and eclecticism to a group already possessing them in abundance, and the expanded ensemble vibe consistently yields impressively layered arrangements. A multitude of processed voices splash through the introductory disk jock patter of “Mr. Wiggles,” while stacks of vocal hooks, synths, and horns compete for attention throughout “Rumpofsteelskin” and the self-descriptive “One Of Those Funky Thangs.” True to its audacious title, the dance smash “Aqua Boogie (A Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop)” revels in its maximalism (bird calls, wandering piano, shrill synths), teetering on the brink of chaos before ultimately succeeding in converting Sir Nose to love the waterways. Junie’s primary showcases playfully extend the oceanic metaphor with the fish pun-filled title track, and a romantic waltz, “(You’re a Fish and I’m a) Water Sign,” that’s easily one of P-Funk’s most gorgeous ballads.
But it’s the finale, “Deep,” that most reflects Motor Booty Affair’s tag line, “A Soundtrack to a Motion Picture Underwater.” Moving between cacophonous dialogue between characters, it explicitly challenges the antiquated ways of the dry world, lampooning its demagoguery, intolerance, and feigned profundity as contrasted with life in the idealized Atlantis (“We’ve got to raise Atlantis from the bottom of the sea/Dancing ’til we bring it to the top/We’ve got to keep on searching ’til we’re totally free/But in the meantime let’s say that we’re deep”). It’s a fitting climax to a statement that’s proven its staying power. Motor Booty Affair’s influence would not only be felt on future generations of hip-hop sample innovators (The Bomb Squad, Ice Cube, Cypress Hill, EPMD), but the intertwined artistry and Black undersea mythology of Detroit techno cult heroes Drexciya. And, for that alone, Parliament’s last true 70s classic remains a world worth diving into.