06/19/2003 9:30p CT
Grey Cavitt - Reviewer
After echoing the era in Up for the Down Stroke, George Clinton and Parliament set about crafting their classic sound. The creation was gradual, although at first, the group’s next album, Chocolate City, certainly does not seem to be a transitional effort. The album kicks off with the title track, and that song’s mellow groove, spacey ambience, slow build, and classic DJ style announces a dramatic rebirth of the band that just a year ago was content to copy its idols. It is an exciting, thrilling moment, one that promises much more than the uneven album delivers.
Despite the attempts of all concerned, Chocolate City is an album in the uncomfortable position of straddling the fence, soaking in the safety of the past while eyeing a future evolution into P-Funk. Nowhere else does the record approach the funky confidence of that first song, although several tracks, especially "Big Footin’", certainly shine on their own terms. "Big Footin’", however, is held until the end, and while its frenetic party jubilation complete with hyperventilating lead vocals, helps bring the house down, its position, shared with Chocolate City, as a bookend unfortunately highlights the two main problems with the album. First, as typical for a transitional album, the disc is too tentative, and second, in contrast to the debut, this sophomore effort is much too uneven.
When City generates electricity, though, it really showers sparks. In between the stellar opener and closer, Parliament slips in and out of many different styles. Some, like the haunted-house-of-soul vibe of "Let Me Be", the delicious sweet soul of "I Misjudged You", and the charging, triumphant sing along of "If It Don’t Fit (Don’t Push It)", challenge the excellence of Parliament’s previous work. Some, such as the rumbling "Ride On", coast out of steam before time, and a few others, like the formless "Together" and the stalled "Side Effects", come across as limp and tired. Parliament gives every tune a go. When the groove connects, they work it. When the song cannot seem to plug into a live socket, they work it. When nothing on a track works, they work it.
As a result, Chocolate City is a fine R&B album, heads above most of its contemporaries. However, coming after the blast of Up for the Down Stroke, and getting under way with one of the group’s best tunes ever, one cannot help be listen to the most of the disc with slight disappointment. If that first album was not the most original effort, it was rarely less than brilliant, often improving on whatever formulas it might be exploiting. Where the follow-up bravely plows ahead, the music rears up to meet the challenge. When traveling over familiar ground, however, the band itself often seems bored and mired in the very styles in which they formerly reveled.
This remaster is another great sonic resurrection. Just listen to the leadoff song and relish how the groove lurks under breathing, throbbing membranes of thick, atmospheric air. The two alternate cuts hardly invigorate the album, but the unreleased "Common Law Wife" is a keeper and should excite die-hard fans.
Chocolate City may falter at times, but it is certainly an advance from the superior debut. The band is building something, however haltingly. The records has a vague concept, Parliament’s first, built around a love for Washington D.C., and at times, the band finds new form by chiseling out a creative, cosmic identity. If here they never quite take off, the hammers are pounding. Next time around, the Mothership would be complete, and Parliament would soar higher than most bands could ever dream.
Copyright © 2002-2003 Matthew Rowe. All rights reserved.
Released: April 8, 2003
William (Billie Bass) Nelson:
The Man in the Box:
Calvin Simon,Fuzzy Haskins,
* Alternate Mix