UNDERCOVER BROTHER: SOUNDTRACK
Review by Brad Green:
It says something about a genre when it becomes a generic term of approval. You can call a piece of music jazzy, bluesy, adult contemporary or neo-electronic-disco-esq and not really make a statement about its quality. But it’s well nigh impossible to tag a “funky” moniker on a tune and imply that it’s lacking in some way. Except perhaps in squeaky clean monotony. Oh yes, funky always implies a little kinky, a little sweaty and more than a little hedonistic – in the most irresistible way.
The funkmeisters featured on this compilation are mostly of the old school – James Brown, Earth Wind & Fire, Wild Cherry and even The Commodores (in one of their rare outings where groove ruled smooth). A contemporary hip-hop offering by Lil’ J is mediocre fare in this company, but mod-rapper Snoop Dogg does better by getting into the old school spirit with a reworking of a Parliament Funkadelic classic. He even enlists the assistance of Parliament stalwart Bootsy Collins: he of the geometrically extravagant, spangled spectacles and the bass with, count them, no less than four simultaneous outputs.
It says something about the difference between the heights of funk and the modern beat-oriented genres that in those days a bass player could be as famous as a diva. And a musician could be a showman without exciting suspicion that it covered a lack of musical prowess. Just the reverse in fact. You could only afford to be ostentatious if you could back it up on your instrument.
These guys had a sense of humour about their excesses. You can hear it in almost every number here. It’s a sense of anything goes: a playfully lecherous lyric segueing into a nursery rhyme chant; a clean chickin’ pickin’ guitar pattern making way for a greasy brass break; and hugely talented singers layering their voices over hotbeds of scorching rhythm.
The funk is one of the few genres that have successfully combined art and attitude. It’s silly, sexy and sophisticated all at once. There are few rules and the only crime is minimalism. Some of the artists featured here might be getting a little past their prime but their recordings have retained every ounce of their original vitality. As a compilation the power of this music is not to be underestimated. In fact, the album should come with a “play with caution” warning. It’s potent enough to sprout an afro on Peter Garrett’s noggin and if imbibed at high volumes is likely to make a packet of Viagra seem like a sedative.
Published February 13, 2003
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TITLE: Undercover Brother
ARTISTS: Snoop Dogg; Average White Band; The Commodores; Wild Cherry; James Brown; The O’Jays; Earth Wind & Fire; Gil Scott-Heron; Carl Carlton; Kook and the Gang; Cheryl Lynn; Mary Jane Girls; Stanley Clarke and LaMont Van Hook; Lil’ J