Listening to Thundercat’s music is like taking a trip into the past, a trip into space, and a trip on drugs all at once. His third studio album ‘Drunk’ is no exception to this rule, with Thundercat playing the roles of bass virtuoso, songwriter, and comedian in equal parts throughout the 23-track journey.
One glance at the cover art is enough to elicit the first confused stare and involuntary smile of many that ‘Drunk’ sets out to produce. It quickly feels as though the album would rather entertain than impress, and yet it manages to do both in some pretty strange ways. Within 60 seconds of pressing play, we hear Thundercat croon – in his signature, rough around the edges falsetto – “Beat your meat, go to sleep”, followed shortly thereafter by the sounds of snoring and farting. Later, we hear him singing about being a cat and meowing on ‘A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II)’. And yet, while it’s tough not to let out a sigh or two at the sheer goofiness of these songs, it’s just as difficult not to marvel at the incredible bass playing and breakneck jazz passages that punctuate the silliness.
Fortunately, ‘Drunk’ does manage to undergo modest yet noticeable change throughout the course of its runtime, meaning that the balance between bathroom humor and simple lightheartedness evens out, on average. However, “modest” may indeed be the operative word here, because, while there is a certain degree to which Thundercat pivots around his signature sound, there are few moments on ‘Drunk’ that are not readily familiar to anyone who’s heard his previous work.
Part of that is likely due to the heavy influence of long-time collaborator Flying Lotus, who said he “had a hand in pretty much every song”. From the ‘tap your foot as fast as you can’ groove of the drum breaks on ‘Captain Stupido’ to the swirling, quicksand-esque shuffle of ‘Jethro’, the iconic chemistry between the two is incredibly prominent from start to finish, yielding results that sound at times like they could be from either 1970 or 2070. There’s no issue of bad production or lackluster musicality on ‘Drunk’, but there may very well be one of strong production and stellar musicality being confined to a specific comfort zone.
As I’ve already alluded to, this comfort zone does not extend to the songwriting… at all, really. While some of Thundercat’s humor does cross the distinct line between funny and laughable, his unwavering commitment to writing songs that are utterly personal is usually enough to make up for it. ‘DUI’, the album’s hazy closing track, is a great example of this – delivering a hugely vulnerable message about life, death, struggle, and routine in a way that still doesn’t dim the twinkle in Thundercat’s eye that’s made audible across ‘Drunk’.
There’s only one last gripe I want to make before summing up the partial-enigma that is ‘Drunk’. Of all Thundercat’s numerous strengths – which include being one of the baddest motherfuckers to ever pick up a bass guitar- singing is not one of them. Yes, he can carry a tune, yes, maybe it’s an acquired taste, but there’s no discernible reason not to enlist a bit more help in the vocal department. Hearing Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald tear up ‘Show You The Way’ was one of the album’s best moments, as was the change of pace brought about by Kendrick Lamar’s verse on ‘Walk On By’. With such consistently good instrumentation, it’s unfortunate to hear musical ideas going stale or falling short of their full potential, when it might’ve been reached by conscripting a featured artist. Having said that, hopefully that doesn’t include another painfully predictable Wiz Khalifa verse (i.e. ‘Drink Dat’) ever again.
Regardless of all the things ‘Drunk’ is or is not, or what Thundercat did or did not manage to accomplish with it, what we have here is an album worth having. Because, whether or not you get the humor, enjoy the singing, or are satisfied with the risks taken, it’s hard to imagine that the 51 minutes required to listen to something as interesting and out there as ‘Drunk’ are more valuable than what you stand to gain – whatever bit of intrigue, culture, or enjoyment that may be.