Make no mistake: When the history of our age is finally written, people will speak with awe and admiration of the Clinton Era. It's almost inevitable, really. Because beyond the expected hero worship -- the plaudits to Clinton's imagination, innovation and initiative -- it will be impossible not to acknowledge the extent to in which the Clintonian vision will have shaped the world of the future.
What? No, no, not Bill and Hillary. We're talking about George Clinton.
Don't worry -- it's a common mistake. After all, Bill and Hillary turn up on the TV news all the time, whereas George only occasionally crops up on MTV and BET. But TV coverage isn't always the most reliable indication of popularity or influence. Besides, which would you rather listen to -- a Bill Clinton speech, or a George Clinton jam?
Well, you're in luck. Because George has just released his first new album in four years, "Hey Man, Smell My Finger" (Paisley Park/Warner Bros. 25518, arriving in stores today). And once again, he proves to be the only Clinton who delivers on all his promises.
As might be expected from the funkiest man in America, the songs on "Smell My Finger" are rhythmically insistent and totally irreverent. Rather than bore people with talk about crisis management and diplomatic initiatives (like those other Clintons), George sticks to basics, like the pleasures of "Rhythm
and Rhyme" or how to "Get Satisfied."
That's not to say he entirely forgoes politics, just that his slant on things is a little different than the usual Washington perspective. Asked to "Say somethin' political" in the song "Maximumisness," Clinton sagely responds, "I'm dyin' to eat it," then asks, "Where are the lumps in my gravy?"
Has the State of the Union ever been put so succinctly?
Like most Clinton projects, "Smell My Finger" relies mostly on managed cooperation. Granted, George is always at the helm, but he makes sure to leave room for his players to shine. And shine they do, from the copious vocal cameos to instrumental interludes by the likes of Maceo Parker (on "Get Satisfied") and Herbie Hancock (on 'Maximumisness").
Clinton's guests are there to share in the fun, not show off, and that leaves everyone sounding like equals.
For example, just listen to "Paint the White House Black." At first glance, the song may seem like little more than an excuse for big-name rap stars -- Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Chuck D, Flavor Flav and Yo Yo among them -- to pay their respects to Clinton's long-standing funkmanship. And to be fair, it works pretty well on that level, particularly when Dre is heard over the phone, saying, "Could I speak to the president? Yeah, tell him he was smokin' last night at the club. . . . What? He don't inhale? Well, I know I got the wrong [expletive] house!"
But each of those performances is just part of a larger picture. The real point behind "Paint the White House Black" is that you can't paint a realistic picture of America using only white, "so get the paint brush, it's time for a change." And the range of performers behind that lyric -- rockers, rappers and dancehall stars -- underscores its appropriateness.
Don't make the mistake of thinking that the album's rap content means Clinton has turned away from the rhythm and harmony approach he plied with Parliament and Funkadelic. If anything, these new songs merely update Clinton's traditional approach -- and not just because the end of "Martial Law" quotes bits of "One Nation Under a Groove," "(Not Just) Knee Deep" and "Flash Light."
"Get Satisfied," for instance, may have a few rap segments, but otherwise could easily pass for classic P-Funk, what with the massed vocals and Bernie Worell's synth interjections. And even though the basic beat to "High in My Hello" relies heavily on clanking synths and clockwork sequencers, it still keeps its traditional flavor, thanks to the vocal interplay of P-Funk vets like Garry Shider and Robert "Peanut" Johnson (not to mention the inimitable thwack of Bootsy Collins' bass).
There aren't many pop legends who have been able to keep current without compromising. Even so, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Clinton manages that feat so handily with "Hey Man, Smell My Finger." As the P-Funk faithful well know, he's been doing it ever since he transformed the soul harmony approach of the Parliaments (remember "Testify"?) into the mind-bending, booty-shifting sound of Funkadelic. And Lord knows, there's no reason for him to stop now.
HEAR HIS MUSIC
You can hear excerpts from George Clinton's new release, "Hey Man, Smell My Finger," on Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service.
You will need a touch-tone phone. Call (410) 783-1800, or from Anne Arundel County, (410) 268-7736. After the greeting, punch in 6186.