Funk bass giant William “Bootsy” Collins’ first album in six years follows the formula he has favored the past 20 of including a host of featured guests and a heavy injection of hip hop/rap elements. Beginning with 1997’s satisfying Straight Outta ‘P’ University, the flamboyant funkateer famous for his star-shaped Space Bass and spectacles has now uncorked four such opuses — and the new World Wide Funk is best of the bunch. It more successfully straddles the fence between funk and rap than ‘P’ University, eschews the spoken-word approach that made some of 2011’s Tha Funk Capital of the World tedious, and features Bootsy much more prominently than 2002’s flimsy Play With Bootsy.
Although “Worth My While” harkens back to the classic “I’d Rather Be With you,” those looking for Bootsy to return to his straight-up P-Funk days of 1976 when he debuted as Bootsy’s Rubber Band with the electrifying Stretchin’ Out through as late as 1988’s What’s Bootsy Doin’? may otherwise be disappointed. That would be a shame because when approached with fresh ears, an open mind and an uninhibited rump, World Wide Funk nails its target and fulfills the promise of all Bootsy albums in delivering a wall-to-wall groove orgy.
Truth be told, if I had my druthers I too would prefer more unadulterated Bootsy and Rubber Band-style vocals, but it’s hard to quibble when the funk is this plentiful and fierce. Further, when considered in the context of how many of his Funk Mob cohorts have recently left this frequency — including singer Robert “P-Nut” Johnson this year, keyboard wizard Bernie Worrell last year, and earlier this decade guitar-playing brother Catfish Collins and singer Garry Shider — Bootsy should be celebrated for continuing to promote the rhythm of The One. World Wide Funk includes a tribute to Worrell, “A Salute to Bernie,” featuring some of his previously unreleased playing.
The trio of Worrell, Collins and George Clinton is primarily credited with creating the hallowed Parliament and Bootsy’s Rubber Band sounds as well as most of their biggest hits and highly regarding songs. Surprisingly and unusually, Clinton does not appear on the new set. But several names from past Bootsy outings such as Bootsy’s Rubber Band drummer Frankie “Kash” Waddy, Joel “Razor Sharp” Johnson and Gary “Mudbone” Cooper, as well as guitar virtuoso Buckethead and drummer Dennis Chambers. Other high-profile guests include jazz bass legends Stanley Clarke and Victor Wooten, singer Musiq Soulchild, blues guitar master Eric Gales, and rappers Chuck D, Doug E. Fresh, Big Daddy Kane, Dru Down and MC Eiht. One of the most valuable players is former Sun guitarist Keith Cheatham, who inject killer rhythm licks in several spots.
There are 13 other songs besides the two mentioned above and a total of more than 71 minutes of music. Most of the cuts are in excess of 4 minutes and nearly half of them stretch out (Bootsy is still stretchin’ out!) in excess of 5 minutes. Opening with the title track, the funk party sizzles for some 25 minutes before the pace slows down with a ballad. In addition to rap, the aural smorgasbord is liberally seasoned with gobs of Bootsy’s cartoonish vocals, catchphrases and adlibs, lively singing, and refreshingly real instrumentation marked by a swath of prominent bass voicings, chicken-scratch rhythm guitar, metal and blues-rock guitar soloing, with horns, talkbox, and lots more packed into the complex arrangements and dense grooves.
Amid the straightahead funk, funk-rock and a few mellow tracks, Bootsy throws in some more mainstream-sounding fare best categorized as funk-tinged contemporary R&B with a pop sensibility. Think “Groove Is in the Heart,” Dee-Lite’s 1990 smash that Bootsy appeared on, only not as infectious. This includes a pair of songs (“Ladies Nite,” which is not a remake of the 1979 Kool & the Gang hit, and “Hot Saucer,” which ironically has some musical similarities to Kool & the Gang’s 1984 hit “Fresh”) shared online before the album’s release, likely an attempt to score a hit or generate some mainstream buzz. However, for hardcore funkateers those initial tastes along with the aforementioned “Worth My While” — essentially watered-down funk and a retread from that perspective — instilled little confidence in the album that was to follow.
A more accurate harbinger of the imminent bodyslam fest was the prerelease snippet of “Bass-Rigged-System,” a ferociously funky bass summit featuring Clarke and Wooten. Elsewhere, although the highlights are many with sequencing that engages the listener from start to finish, upon early spins two of the especially strong funk jams are “Pusherman” (not a remake of the 1972 Curtis Mayfield classic) and the closing “Illusions.” Among the other noteworthy cuts is “Come Back Bootsy” (the longest track at 7+ minutes) that sounds the most like a live jam session. One of the album’s most unusual songs is “Boomerang,” which veers into rockabilly-funk territory.
At the end of the play, it’s hard to imagine any funk fan not finding at least some tracks to cotton to on this sprawling collection — and most are bound to be bowled over. Beyond that, anyone appreciative of high octane, expertly played, rhythm-heavy music is likely to be seduced by its charms. As with many great records, like peeling back the layers of a vast onion, repeated listening will undoubtedly reveal new discoveries within the grooves that will inspire fluidity of one’s favorite songs. The CD is handsomely packaged with lots of colorful graphics, including a booklet (Bootlet?) depicting our hero in various scenarios. A two-LP set is also available featuring multicolored splattered vinyl records.
World Wide Web is Bootsy’s best and most consistent effort since at least 1982’s The One Giveth, the Count Taketh Away, the last of the great run of Warner Brothers albums that made him a star. Nearly a half-century since he first cut his teeth playing with James Brown, Bootsy’s star continues to shine ever so brightly . . . as he would say, “Uh, twinkle, twinkle bobba!”