Originally published in: Terminal Zone, Spring 1977

Adventures in Diffusion:
Spotlight Reviews from Terminal Zone

John Hiatt: Overcoats (Epic)
A folkie with a gift for the pop hook, a handsome young man whose face becomes distorted beyond recognition the moment he starts to sing, a Catholic with more hang-ups than I ever reckoned a high church could inculcate, Hiatt has scared me worse than any artist on the scene. "Motorboat to Heaven" is surreal, for sure, but it further makes fun of hopelessness in a way that can only be called bizarre. "One More Time" should have been a hit, but it starts up: "Mama's in the bathroom/ Waitin' to be saved/ Papa's in the bedroom/ Just diggin' up his grave/ Brother's in the kitchen/ Playin' with a knife/ Sister's in the attic/ Just laughin' at her life." This is nasty business; try a love song that goes: "I'm on my knees if that's what you need/ If it's blood you crave, well then I'm ready to bleed." The title cut is a tour de force; the idea that it could even have been written is ludicrous. Overcoats enjoys the endless fascination of staring into a black hole; its architect is a priceless refugee. God save him.

Hirth Martinez: Hirth From Earth (Warners)
Be visions created in the suggestions of interrelationship given up in juxtaposition, all this metamorphicality about stars and flying saucers refracts into a sensibility that is down right visceral. Martinez is a gem; his songs wander into magic not by invocation but by transubstantiation. The improbability alone would be convincing; the natural terror of the other is totally lost in astonishment, a casual benificence which conditions render surprising. Martinez violates the negative dialects almost at will, and never gets caught. "I take the good and bad, and I weave it into smiles." Had I never fallen in love with this beautiful album, I would've insisted, he can't do that.

Funkadelic: Let's Take It to the Stage/Hardcore Jollies (Westbound/Warners)
Blacks invented rock and roll, only to abandon it to be run into the ground till the Beach Boys and the British Invasion salvaged it. Whites, reflecting upon the black/white, cool/warm dialectics all around them, came up with beatnikery and hippiedom, then saw their newfound expressivity reduced to fad and fortune. But for a while there the interplay became known as a Movement; later on recalcitrants started calling themselves survivors. For the most part these survivors had been maimed, psychically and sometimes even physically; in their desolate existence, the communal bonds that gave them strength and courage torn asunder, their ideals became mortified in nostalgia. Funkaelic is a freak/movement band that did not merely survive: they've hung tight as a communal unit, kept a cool head for history, and maintained an open mind toward mass outreach. That they are black has something to do with this, especially the latter; still, if black music over the past 25 years has been geared toward integration -- crossing over -- then the potential white receivership for Funkadelia is the 60s movement/freak residue that has been languishing all this time. Bearers of that persuasion should rejoice at the dozen or so Funkadelic albums that abound, but they aren't likely to take that plunge. Not only do Funkadelic work in idioms most whites have little regard for -- such as gospel styles, or disco -- they never fall back into nostalgia or sentimentalization. Survival is a matter of course; they have restyled themselves as the U.S. Funk Mob, and are on the offensive. Now, that's something to take heart in. It says here, "FUNKADELIC do nots bullshit the masses, because they are almighteous and the baddest thang happening within this entire dimension plane!" Funkadelic has regrouped from the sixties and turned itself into a genuine force that transcends artistic experimentation. However, not bullshitting the masses and linking up with them in an all-powerful common front are two different things,k and in the present universe Funkadelic is almost universally tagged as pretty weird. Ergo:

Parliament: Mothership Connection/The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein (Casablanca)
Parliament has been around a decade or two, and perpetrated more than their share of weirdness on the publick, but a lot of that dimension has been handed over to Funkaelic. Mothership Connection is a pivotal album, which constucted a new cosmology and tore up the charts. The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein adds details and multivalences, concretizing a universe codified not only in space and time but in language as well. Parliament functions not only as the Mothership, the home base of George Clinton's diversified interests, but as the necessary connection between vanguard and mass, that intersuperdupermodulator known as the party. The mitigation of extremes is only a minor (and sometimes invisible) aspect of this; more than anything else, parties sanctify, which means they legitimize a coalescence of interests into a single forcefield. Nothing could be more inimical to American custom, nor more antithetical to the administrative directorate, than such a synthesis, so it becomes surrepitious, goes underground. Gets funked up. For a mindset that denies common interests as blatant as class and even race unity demands diversity; whereas Funkadelic can be so righteous as to enunciate what amounts to a doctrine of grace, Parliament erects a multifaceted web designed to trap listeners at every conceivable level and lure them into the fascination of the whole, or at least neutralize them in their own peculiar groove. This amounts to a reconstruction of the universe, an awesome task which is achieved by flooding and cross reference. The mothership has dispatched 12 albums of credible and often brilliant material to planet Earth in less than three years; the elements, materials, terms and catchalls they use amount to a veritable lexicon. Flooding gives Parliafunkadelicment a constant, reliable presence, a power base; the lexicon ensures coherency, the cross-referencing tying the whole edifice together. But Parliament's own music remains pragmatic, tied to history and as such, trapped in negativity; nevertheless:

Bootsy's Rubber Band: Stretchin' Out in Bootsy's Rubber Band/Aah . . . The Name Is Bootsy, Baby! (Warners)
William "Bootsy" Collins is at least ten years the junior of the Mothership's central committee, but after a stint with James Brown and a crashing entrance on Parliament's Chocolate City album -- coincident with Parliament's base-broadening -- he has earned his own niche in the P-Funk Earth Opera and done some remarkable things with his two "solo" albums. Those albums are neatly divided into their two sides; sides one are didactic, whilst sides two are transcendental. The former are reductive exercises in Houn'dog Rock; Bootsy gussies himself up as the STAR, then pulls the rug out from under the whole schtick with his alter-ego Casper, all the while remaining a cadre for the party of the party. This is a reduction to fundamentals, the bottom line of the dictum, Free Your Mind . . . and Your Ass Will Follow. The latter sides issue in silly love songs, childlike yet autocritical, culminating in the freeborn Geepieland Music and the monumental "Munchies for Your Love." In this Bootsy has begun to free himself from negativity, not by fiat and not by artifice, but by grounding his music in the secured soil of a nascent guerrilla kulchur; "Vanish in Our Sleep" attains release not by mythicizing irony, establishing a contradiction from which even liberation could follow, but by prefacing it with a conditional, proof of which is the actuality of the guerrilla kulchur itself. The future glows with the success of that kulchur; in the hands of this multivalent mob it's bound to be a gas.

Hot Chocolate: Man to Man (Big Tree)
"You Sexy Thing" is itself a miracle, a mysterious violation of all natural laws in the strangely contorted, effusively realistic universe of Hot Chocolate. The contradictions that ennervate Hot Chocolate's main work -- black and white, rich and poor, first and third world -- are not so much resolved as transposed: the song can both be the simplest of compulsive love songs and lie in an oeuvre that eradicates any notion of simplicity with its own sheer compunction. Co-author Tony Wilson adopts the grimmest of faces while still capable of writing so straightforward a love song as "Lay Me Down." Mainman Errol Brown plays the contradiction still tighter, an ascetic/hedonist whose negatory speech bears irony with every word. Together, as in "Emma" or "You Could've Been a Lady," they suggest a possibility safeguarded in its near-fatalism; in the pieces that make up the post-Wilson Man to Man the romantic becomes still more oblique, quintessentially captured as "Heaven Is in the Back Seat of My Cadillac," with its shrill, mocking chorus. Through all this "You Sexy Thing" remains unscathed, a minor piece magnified by its sheer improbability; but the balance of the oeuvre is staggering. Hot Chocolate's first album, Cicero Park (1974), is an incomparably excruciating work; by now it must be considered a classic. The second Hot Chocolate album is vaguer, its treasures more modest. The third album, Man to Man (1976), is virtually perfect, a compellingly beautiful record. In the immediacy of its ironic terror, in the uneasiness of its reconsturction, Hot Chocolate is a quintessential group of our age; there is a nasty scent in the atmosphere that says this is real.