It's been 18 years since this Detroit-born funk-jazz-pop-art collective released its last album — and the world's grown a whole lot crazier during that time, especially America over the last eight years. All of which is perfect fodder for David Was's surrealistic, quasi-political, downright insane lyrics, which almost never fail to portray a universe in a constant state of chaos.
Musically, the album rides the psychedelic funk wave for the most part (well, if funk can include such "unfunky" elements as a guest vocal appearance by Kris Kristofferson). But Don and David's love for the city that groomed them is still fully evident. "It's a Miracle" is a pastiche of classic Motown, Philly and Chicago soul (Motown session drummer James Gadson even plays on the disc), and wouldn't have sounded out of place on early '70s AM radio ... that is, until the line "Who broke the fucking TV?" rises from the blue to jar the listener back to reality. "Your Luck Won't Last," meanwhile, pounds and pulsates with treated electronic vocals and a new r'n'r chant in the vein of, say, a wop-bop-a-loop-bop. The similarly veined "Forget Everything" — probably the most infectious track here — actually celebrates the chaos (there's that word again) all around us in the spirit of Detroit demigod George Clinton. The Was brothers even get downright serious for a moment on the ballad "From the Hand to the Heart," which is sort of a modern "In the Ghetto," except on bad acid. The entire musical crew is back for this effort, including the ageless vocals of Sweet Pea Atkinson, Sir Harry Bowens and Donald Ray Mitchell, although the special guest list is somewhat shorter this time out (in addition to the aforementioned Kristofferson and Gadson, the likes of Booker T. Jones and semi-Was regulars like Wayne Kramer, Marcus Miller and Lenny Castro also make appearances). Still, no less an unknown than Bob Dylan co-wrote the just plain nutty "Mr. Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore."
Don't know that there's anything here as weird-but-immediately-accessible as "I Feel Better Than James Brown," "I Blew up the USA," "Dad, I'm in Jail," "Where Did Your Love Go" or the hit "Walk the Dinosaur." But if poetic images about Tom Cruise and L. Ron Hubbard landing on the Hollywood sign in a flying saucer and "reeking of science-fiction sex," or Motown Sally selling her sister for a tank of gas, or just getting your freak on with two twins in Washington, D.C. — one of whom dressed in Old Glory — make perfect sense to you, well, then, this is at least worth a few spins in the old iPod.
Friday, May 9, at the Majestic Theatre, 4140 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-7272.
Bill Holdship is the music editor of Metro Times Send comments to [email protected].