These days, George Clinton is probably better known for his influence on others than for his own hits. Everyone from Dr. Dre to the Red Hot Chili Peppers has credited his compositions in the 1970s and '80s as leader of Parliament/Funkadelic with providing a bottomless source of elemental funk rhythms, verbal intricacy, and artful musical anarchy. But Clinton's recent solo recordings have been erratic, so it amounts to a pop-cultural event to hear that Hey Man...Smell My Finger (Paisley Park/Warner Bros.) finds him working at peak form once again.
The vulgar title of this collection is a tip-off to the down-to-earthiness Clinton is after these days. In his P-Funk years, he dreamed up scenarios of African-American space colonies and funked-up fairy tales. Now Clinton has his nose in the news: The economy, the L.A. riots, and the issue of ''He who chooses the news/That the network uses/To describe prime-time genocide'' are his concerns.
But if the musings are brooding, the music is ebullient. Hey Man reclaims the riffs so many other musicians have sampled or stolen and revitalizes them with fresh melodies and terse wordplay that Clinton refers to as ''rhymin' ad infinitum.'' Throughout, Hey Man is a prime example of his old phrase ''seriously silly.'' Combining James Brown with First Amendment absolutism, even ''peace and hair grease!'' becomes a statement of principles. Clinton remains the unimpeachable President of Funk; the title of this album should have been Clinton: Still in Office. A