Sunday, 27 April 2014

D CDs #479: From The Brain On Down

By all rights, Maggot Brain should just be about "Maggot Brain". A ten-minute opening title track? That level of stall-setting all too often suggests a band with only one real bullet in a clip otherwise filled with blanks.  And for sure, "Maggot Brain" is proper ordnance, a restrained soulful wah-wah freakout from guitarist Eddie Hazel that ultimately builds to the point where the already minimal backing realises what's going on and quite properly fades out.  It's glorious. It's Maggot Brain! What else could we fairly expect from an album but this?

Except that almost everything else here is phenomenal too.  "Can You Get To That" is pure, joyous funk, making the most of multiple vocalists and tight guitar to wring out every endorphin your grey matter possesses. I haven't sufficient experience with the genre to confidently assert that it wins funk forever, but surely it has to be in with a shot. The killer keys make "Hit It And Quit It" almost as good even before you factor in the riffs, which are hard and sharp as Wolverine's claws in an ice storm. By track four, Funkadelic has remembered that saxophones exist, and we are lost forever.

And if maybe - maybe - the album coasts for the next two tracks, it's only in the sense of working within a pattern so flawless that taking the foot off the accelerator is an action neither unearned nor damaging. "You like that", the disc asks, "Try some more of the same".  And we do, and it's all fine.

Besides, there's one last trick in the bag to break out, in the form of another ten-minute wig-out to cap the album. Cuckoo clocks, squeaky wheels and what mayor may not be a lawnmower engine appear to fill out a track few other bands could have called "Wars of Armageddon" and made it sound like understatement. It is quite simply sounds like nothing else I've ever heard; an end of the world in the sense that this was recorded on the last day the world didn't wake up with "Wars of Armageddon" existing. Many bands have plumped for the "kitchen sink thrown in by a drunken idiot" approach to an  LPs final track, but few have nailed the landing quite like this.

In short, it's phenomenal.  Seven tracks is a little on the light side - there are so many albums which would shine so much brighter if we were able to excise four or five of their least inspiring offerings - but with so much to enjoy here, and with the whole so aware of itself as a complete work, it seems ridiculous to bemoan the fact that they could have stuck some filler on here too.

Eight and half tentacles.

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