Just a couple of seconds into “Captain Stupido,” the second track on L.A. bass wizard Thundercat’s new LP, Drunk, the master musician makes the understatement of all understatements: “I feel weird.” The admission comes surrounded by hillbilly affectations about combing your beard and keeping your composure, complex jazz-funk noodling, and a rank, passed-out-on-the-couch, cheek-fluttering fart. The bulk of Thundercat’s latest longplayer is smooth in all the right places, from the rum-rippled fretboard adventuring down to the gossamer threading of the artist’s angel hair-precious falsetto, but he’s also going for broke with the ideas-soaked outing. While there’s a caginess to the album art, which finds the funksmith cock-eyed and submerged in what just may be a pool of blood red cabernet, the record demonstrates that a Drunk Thundercat generally has things under control.
Bruner packages plenty into Drunk, a 23-song monolith compared to the six-song, 16-minute The Beyond/Where the Giants Roam release from 2015. That said, he’s still keeping his compositions compact, these efficient bursts rarely clocking in over the two-minute mark. “Rabbot Ho” is a quickie that filters golden era Hollywood movie music through the lens of ’70s soul synths, Thundercat’s velvet-soft falsetto sweetness betraying the foreboding introduction of “when it rains it pours.” At 4:01, “Inferno” is the record’s veritable Dante-styled epic, one that spirals melodious, multi-tracked vocal harmonies around an acrid, hellfire-smoky inspection of the mind.
Thundercat explores plenty of terrain on Drunk, from vintage-styled funk to more contemporary feels. “Jethro” has him wriggling out a spider-legged bass line above a thick, deepened clack, this sounding something like his work with Kendrick Lamar on the rapper’s To Pimp a Butterfly. Fittingly enough, the King of Compton makes an appearance on Drunk, supplying bars above the slowed-down bossa nova beat of “Walk On By.” The ties between the two run deep, with Thundercat quoting Lamar’s “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” on “Friend Zone,” a tense but comical oscillated funk thud where the artist proclaims he’d rather play Diablo or Mortal Kombat instead of dealing with relationship “bullshit.” “I’m better off by myself,” he explains.
Thundercat does play well with others, though, the bassist/vocalist gladly sharing the mic with blue-eyed Doobie Brother Michael McDonald and fellow 70s expat Kenny Loggins on “Show You the Way.” The three wax on long-lasting love over a perfect slow jam swirl of speaker-panning electric piano and wind chimes. Wiz Khalifa’s guest verse on “Drink Dat” isn’t exactly profound, acting more as a laundry list of party supplies to get you “high as fuck,” though the appearance fits Drunk’s red-eyed and wasted appeal.
Elsewhere, Thundercat launches out a series of callous-building, six-string bass runs throughout tambourine-tapping “Uh Uh,” but he also steps back in the arrangement to let longtime collaborator Dennis Hamm put on an equally thrilling, knuckle-cracking clinic on the piano.
Despite its overly joyous moments, there’s a darkness to Drunk. Tender, fucked up, and quizzical, the title cut has the Cat “drowning away all of the pain ’til I’m totally numb,” but also off-setting his vulnerability with drunk text punchlines (“so many feels, bro/LOL”).
“DUI” bookends the record with the melody from “Rabbot Ho,” though Thundercat’s philosophizing on the closer takes a turn for the positive (“you will see that it’s not so bad,” he quips). Though at times it casts a viscous shadow, Drunk is ultimately a full-bodied, intoxicating triumph.
-review by Gregory Adams