If there’s anything the last few years have taught us, it’s that we should never take our legends for granted. With his wardrobe of Mad Hatter top hats, star-shaped shades, and omnipresent crooked grin, Bootsy Collins is, for funk music, as universal (and kitschy) an icon as Ronald McDonald is for hamburgers. His persona is as dated as it is weirdly timeless: He’s remained a congruously incongruous presence on the cultural landscape, all without changing so much as a spangled lamé jacket. Collins’s influence on funk bass is arguably second only to Larry Graham’s; he played an integral role in many of the genre’s most significant songs, from James Brown’s “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine” to Parliament’s “Flash Light” to his own “Bootzilla.”
Collins’s new album, World Wide Funk, hews closely to the formula of every Bootsy release since 1997’s Fresh Outta ’P’ University, pairing the ever-amiable Collins with a mix of veteran funksters and (relatively) contemporary guest stars. That approach certainly makes commercial sense—it worked well enough for Carlos Santana—but it also has the potential to make an album feel overstuffed and gimmicky, like a film with too many cameos.
World Wide Funk avoids this pitfall, mainly because of the particular selection of guest stars: Snoop Dogg is here, of course, but so are less expected choices, like erstwhile Oakland rapper Dru Down and only-slightly-less-erstwhile neo-soul singer Musiq Soulchild. There’s a sense that Collins is recruiting less for name recognition this time around than for musical compatibility; many of the best guest spots on this album are by instrumentalists, like the low-end murderer’s row of Victor Wooten, Stanley Clarke, Manou Gallo, and Alissia Benveniste on the aptly named “Bass-Rigged-System.” And when he does resort to stunt casting, the results are wonderfully idiosyncratic: Iggy Pop’s spoken-word introduction to the title track feels more like the result of the conceptual genre-mashing of a Gorillaz album than your average all-star jam.
More than anything, though, World Wide Funk delivers pure, unpretentious funk, overflowing with the joy of creation. Not every song is a gem: The mawkish contemporary gospel tune “Heaven Yes,” for example, sounds less “straight off the Mothership” than “straight off the elevator.” And, while former P-Funk drummer Dennis Chambers is part of Collins’s band, the rest of the crew’s absence is keenly felt, most obviously on the sentimental “A Salute to Bernie,” which pays moving tribute to fallen funkateer Bernie Worrell while making one long for more of the keyboardist’s mad-scientist spark. At its best—as on the standout slow jam “Worth My While,” which slyly bites back on Childish Gambino’s Funkadelic-biting “Redbone”—World Wide Funk is a timely and welcome reminder of Collins’s place in popular music. Long may he funk.