Album Review: Thundercat - Drunk

Following a brief introductory track, the first words you hear on the new album from jazz fusion bassist Thundercat are “I feel weird.” The song title itself is cringe-worthy (“Captain Stupido”), and I suppose this is all very fitting; Thundercat is a weird dude, and Drunk is a very, very weird album.

Something was keeping me from listening to other albums by Thundercat for a long time, but thanks to his contributions to Kamasi Washington’s The Epic, as well as his role in shaping Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, I thought I should give Drunk a listen.

And in doing so, I see now what it was that was keeping me away from Thundercat.

A sprawling 23 tracks, though none of them are over four minutes in length, Drunk as an album, and Thundercat, as a songwriter and performer, are both in a state of constant struggle to determine what is more important: an oddball sense of humor, or interesting arrangements.

That conflict between left-field laughs and jazzy, funky, slightly electronic-based compositions runs throughout Drunk, making it a difficult, puzzling listening experience. Getting over the initial head scratching “Captain Stupido,” the album heads into a frenetic instrumental track before arriving at the shuffling, early single “Bus in These Streets.”

I guess the real problem with Drunk surfaces early on: Thundercat (born Stephen Bruner) isn’t a very good lyricist. Or, rather, maybe he just doesn’t care, and that’s the point. The array of jokey, near stream of consciousness nonsense continues to grow more severe, and difficult to stomach, as you make your way through the album: there’s the meowing on “A Fan’s Mail,” and there’s the borderline misogyny of “Friend Zone.”

While there are offenders throughout, I suppose the song that pushed me over the edge was the skittering “Tokyo,” a song that includes such gems as “Gonna eat so much fish, I think I’m gonna be sick/Gonna blow all my cash on Anime,” and “It was premeditated, tried to get someone pregnant/It wasn’t her fault, I’m just kind of psychotic.”

Like, this is some near Mark Kozelek levels of bullshit lyrics here, but with Thundercat, everything is sung through a yacht-rock falsetto, delivered with a knowing wink and a mostly straight face.

Mentioning yacht rock seems like as good of time as any to draw attention to the cameo appearances from both Michael McDonald AND Kenny Loggins on THE SAME SONG—the smoothed out “Show You The Way.” The song itself is relatively infectious, which is impressive; however, Thundercat can’t help but slide the song into a self-aware direction when he insists on tossing in an introduction for each vocalist prior to their verse. 

Despite how idiosyncratic this all is, there are some surprising standout moments on Drunk—like the double shot of the shimmering slow jam “Lava Lamp” and the head-nodding, all too short triumph of “Jethro.”

Musically speaking, Drunk is a dense and interesting album. Thundercat is obviously a master of his instrument, and as a composer (not a lyricist) he has a knack for blending myriad genres and elements to create something that is both accessible yet bizarre.

Maybe I take music too seriously. Maybe that’s my problem. Maybe if I knew how to have fun, and listened to “fun” music, perhaps Drunk would be an enjoyable listen. But that is not the case. While I did find the music to be interesting, the lyrical content of this album made me raise my eyebrow more than once, and I don’t really see this as the kind of thing I’d be returning to for subsequent listens, unless I suddenly develop a sense of humor.

And I don’t see that happening.

Drunk is out now via Brainfeeder.