Thundercat’s Drunk is a free-flowing masterpiece, both hilarious and deeply moving. This is his first full-length project since the bass extraordinaire, birth name Stephen Bruner, solidified his spotlight as a key contributor on To Pimp a Butterfly in 2015; this album only adds more fuel to the hype train.
Where his previous albums focused mainly on somber ruminations on death and love, Drunk showcases Thundercat’s sense of humor more than ever before. It’s one that might be considered dark, the comedy of someone coming out of (or going into) an alcoholic depression. Conceptually framed around one drunken night, the intention of the beginning of the evening, to “go hard, get drunk, and travel down a rabbit hole,” ends predictably: “Bottom of the glass/At this point you’ve made an ass/ And your friends will let you know tomorrow.” By the second track, “Captain Stupido,” we know we are in for quite a silly affair, as Thundercat outlines a dissipated routine in a call-and-response with himself: “I feel weird/comb your beard, brush your teeth/still feel weird/beat your meat, go to sleep.” This is followed by a furious instrumental section, which ends with a giddy realization: “I think I left my wallet at the club.”
Much of the album’s character comes from the fact that Thundercat is not afraid to laugh at himself. Case in point, self-effacement makes the track “Friend Zone” work; despite the associations of creepy male entitlement that that its title brings to mind, the candor of Thundercat’s über-douchey characterization allows it to come off as anything but. Another striking example of the artist’s self-deprecating transparency is on the song “A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II),” which presents an image that came to encapsulate the tone of the whole album for me.
Musing on what it is like to be a cat, Thundercat sings: “My roar would be so powerful/I would scare off everything.” Taken at face value, it is actually a pretty self-absorbed fantasy, but as the line before mentions “everything the light touches,” I interpreted it as a Lion King reference. Specifically, I recalled a scene where young Simba lets out a roar, and animals are running away- though not from him, but from a coming stampede. While, on revisiting the scene I had in mind, I realized that it didn’t happen quite as I had remembered it, the image stuck with me.
Lyrically brilliant, Drunk is also a musical force. The arrangements are much more fleshed out and diverse than his previous albums, with a wide range of electronic sounds mixed in with liberal doses of pummeling free-jazz, in a format similar to Flying Lotus’s “You’re Dead,” and inspiration is taken from everything from soft rock to fusion jazz. At the forefront, of course, is Thundercat’s ripping bass, flying along at breakneck speed or bouncing steadily on the beat. There are many contributions, from Flying Lotus and Kamasi Washington, to Kendrick Lamar and Pharell to Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald, oddly enough. The first and last of the album’s 23 songs contain the same melody and similarly sparse arrangements, and excellently tie the album together.