, February 23rd, 2017 15:30
In the last several years, Stephen "Thundercat" Bruner has proven himself an invaluable player in LA's genre-busting musical ferment, lending his gleefully showy bass playing to everyone from Erykah Badu to Suicidal Tendencies to his tight bro/regular collaborator Flying Lotus. He's a remarkably dextrous player, somehow angular and liquid at once, a shameless callback to Jaco Pastorius and Stanley Clarke even as his stage presence more closely recalls that of Bootsy Collins. He also has a goofy, absurdist sense of humour, as evidenced by collaborations with Eric Andre that are among both of their best work.
On Drunk, Thundercat aggressively grafts said humour onto his spacy throwback fusion r&b, and the results are mixed. The tradition of blending formidable chops with sophomoric jokes is a venerated one, stretching back at least as far as the deft-yet-filthy blues double entendres of Bo Carter, but the shoe which fits most closely here is that oft-acknowledged joke music touchstone, Frank Zappa: Bruner's frothy melodies and slick, slippery runs would fit right in on Sheik Yerbouti, and his poker-faced, soulful delivery of lyrics about masturbating and eating sushi fit squarely into the same snarky teenage boy zone.
The jokes will likely play well to that sizable chunk of Thundercat's base, but when it's at its best, the humour on Drunk takes a back seat to melodic invention. Bruner's voice is a soft, keening thing even when his lyrics are silly, making songs like 'Blackkk' and fan favorite 'Them Changes' sound as tender and languid as they are musically busy. Much will be made of the fact that Thundercat managed to pull cognac-rock geezers Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins onto the single 'Let Me Show You', but this would ultimately be of little note if the track weren't actually strong.
Still, at its low points (most notably the MRA-friendly 'Friend Zone'), the jokes jump to the forefront to the music's detriment. If it's your kind of humour, then maybe you're in for an ephemeral treat, but it's otherwise guaranteed to distract. Humour is weird that way, especially in music: nothing wrong with sprinkling your jams with yuks, of course, but what's left when the novelty value wears off?
Perhaps none of this would even be an issue were there more pathos behind the jokes. Earlier Thundercat cut "Tron Song", an ode to a lost cat, managed to be funny with feeling; it reaches deep and feels personal, without taking itself too seriously. There's little here that pulls off that feat. Drunk seems to just skim the surface of Bruner's sense of humour, as if the lyrics were dashed off last-minute over a couple bong rips.
Whatever. Thundercat is clearly having a good time, which I'm sure is a welcome reprieve after the decidedly heavier vibes of 2013's grieving Apocalypse. Good on him. If your sense of humour is roughly in line with his, you too will probably walk away reasonably satisfied. Anyone who's been impressed by Thundercat's freaked deftness in more emotionally nuanced contexts, however, will likely find themselves nonplussed.