I’m at a weird place with Drunk. Thundercat’s third studio album is creative, charismatic, honest, and sometimes extremely funny, but the rapid-fire approach to track sequencing can leave me frustrated as much as it does delighted. With an average track length of about two minutes, Thundercat leaves little room for these sweet R&B jams to develop into what they deserve to be. Drunk swiftly goes from one idea to the next, and it’s difficult to get a grasp on many of the songs that fail to get to the three-minute mark. It’s often a jarring and muddled experience, which I suppose may be the point given the album title, but it’s not exactly the most engaging artistic direction.
With that said, Drunk is pretty great when it actually hits its stride. The record peaks in the middle, starting with groovy slow-jam “Show You The Way” and ending with “Them Changes”, which is the funkiest heartbreak song in recent memory. Between these sits “Friend Zone”, a hilarious highlight that pokes fun at the delicate space between love and friendship, equipped with a genius sample of an iPhone ringtone and a chorus that references the videogame Diablo. Thundercat’s pure honesty, combined with the familiarity of smartphone alerts and popular videogames titles, is what makes “Friend Zone” so downright relatable. “Tokyo” shares the same quality, as do a few others.
If other tracks were allowed the same time to progress, Drunk could have been a highly memorable release, but forty second cuts don’t stand a chance in hell to make a lasting impression. It’s too chaotic to nail down any sort of consistency. Even so, I remain seriously endeared by the tone of the record, and there is something admirable about the impulsive nature of its making. As musical clutters go, this is as enjoyable as they come, but an artist of Thundercat’s capacity is surely capable of better.
7 out of 10
Of Drunk’s twenty-three tracks, only six exceed three minutes. It’s 51 minutes long, and the average track sticks around for roughly two minutes. Records such as J Dilla’s Donuts and Flying Lotus’ You’re Dead! have demonstrated that this kind of structure is better suited to creating the illusion of formlessness: an album that’s rapid and seamless, that careens through short tracks that are meticulously mixed to function not as discrete units, but as movements within a larger, constantly shifting piece of music.
Drunk diverges from this model in two respects: first, it’s fractured and elliptical rather than fluid, comprising entirely of short songs that function as discrete units; second, it’s more downtempo and mellow than exhilarating, consciously eschewing memorable hooks and melodies in favour of luxuriating in textures and grooves. So: Thundercat wants to luxuriate, but briefly; he’s adopted an album structure that’s restless and befitting of rapidity, but often plays with a languid tempo that makes two minutes feel like four; he doesn’t want to exhaust an idea, getting in and out of a song as soon as possible (often to its detriment), but has at the same time stuffed this album with so many ideas that it drags and becomes exhausting.
Drunk is, in other words, an album of irreconcilable contradictions, and the way it was put together makes no fucking sense to me. It has its pleasures, of course. Thundercat is a magnificent player, a funny guy, and an inquisitive musician who trades in an intoxicating blend of jazz, soul, electronic, funk, and hip-hop. When these strands coalesce on tracks such as “Tokyo”, “Friend Zone” and “A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II)”, it’s undeniable and indelible. But the way in which this album has been presented makes these highlights feel more ephemeral than they perhaps are, drowned out by the surrounding noise. It is, ultimately, a baffling construction, and an unfortunately unsatisfying experience.
6 out of 10
I’m left frustrated by Drunk. It’s a grower of an album for sure, as my first listen certainly didn’t grab me, but additional plays have given me a chance to find a lot to like. Some of the flourishes and ideas in the mix on this album are superb. The Sonic The Hedgehog sample in “Show You The Way”, for instance, makes me smile on every listen. A lot of the musical ideas are engaging, fresh and sound just right. If you’ve listened to Thundercat before, the same aesthetic has returned, and the mix of jazz, soul, and R&B still piques my curiosity.
The quirk of tracks like “Captain Stupido” makes them stand out, while the slightly more electronic side of the album in tracks like “Friend Zone” also shine as highlights. Vocals often sound like streams of consciousness, but this usually works well, especially on the shorter tracks. Features include the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Pharrell Williams, making for a star-studded tracklist, but the execution is a little patchy, ranging from sounding great to sounding completely off.
My frustration occurs when I step back to review this album as a whole. I didn’t find the experience exhausting as others did, but the average track length of two minutes made for a stop-start experience that ultimately detracts from my enjoyment. For me, Drunk feels like a patchwork. The production is generally good enough that it would be harsh to brand these tracks as ‘demos’, but as so few are fully formed, it’s hard to distinguish an interlude from an actual track.
At 23 tracks and 50 minutes long, Drunk has enough time to explore several ideas, but instead touches upon a deluge of them. It feels as though something extra is needed to make this a cohesive album, be it a track cull, a gapless transition from track to track, or an additional tranche of work on a lesser number of tracks. Put simply, Drunk is a hefty set of enjoyable tracks that I won’t return to as an album.
6 out of 10