Thundercat has returned with his third full length studio project, Drunk. Following 2015’s collaborations with Kendrick Lamar on To Pimp A Butterfly and the release of his EP The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam, the bass virtuoso has been teasing new music for too long. On Drunk, multi-instrumentalist Stephen Bruner drops his strongest and most introspective project yet, reinventing his soulful jazz-funk style in a way that throws back to the classic era of smooth soul and jazz fusion.
Throughout Drunk, Thundercat goes beyond the expanses of his previous efforts, producing a twenty-three song strong tracklist (although most of these songs are only around three minutes in length) that delves into jazz fusion, neo soul, and neo psychedelia. Thundercat has always been renowned for his ability to explore various genres and unify them seamlessly, and Drunk is no different. Songs like Friend Zone are obvious modern reinterpretations of the electro-funk age, while on the short and synthy Jameel’s Space Ride, Bruner explores psychedelia and spacey pop.
On several tracks, Thundercat recruits friends both old and new to join in on Drunk. Frequent collaborator Kendrick Lamar drops in for the album’s third single, Walk on By, delivering an amazing verse typical of the classic Kendrick flow and wordplay. While Bruner reflects on loneliness and depression, Kendrick contemplates his rights and wrongs on his versatile bars (Fill up the lavish pen if I needed to right my wrongs / I can’t deny sin, condolences through these palms). Another rapper friend assists on Drink Dat, a wonderfully misty and lethargic psychedelic hip hop track featuring Wiz Khalifa. Wiz has never been the most impressive lyricist, but his laidback flow and style fit right in on this track, sharing screen time with Thundercat’s smooth vocals.
Drunk’s lead single, Show You The Way, is essentially soft rock’s version of a posse cut, with classic yacht rockers Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins joining Thundercat for a smooth and clichéd love ballad. Everything about this song makes it feel like Thundercat is playing a huge joke on the audience, an intentional and self-aware parody about the whole spirit of the yacht rock era – but the coming together of these three produces fantastic results. It’s smooth, it’s catchy, and it’s pretty ridiculous too.
Pharrell Williams slides in on penultimate track The Turn Down, a slow and moody track that sees the coming together of two modern funk pioneers. The duo discuss a myriad of political issues, including race, class, pollution, and war – it’s socially conscious, and especially relevant. Thundercat’s lyrics on Drunk are overall far more mature, potent, adn introspective, exploring a number of themes throughout, centrally, ideas of alcoholism and heartbreak.
These two concepts serve as the focal points for most of the album’s tracks – usually combining the two. On songs like 3AM, Drink Dat, and Drunk, Bruner finds himself cascading away into delirium as he finds himself consumed by heartbreak. But it’s not all sorrow for Thundercat – just as many times as he finds himself depressed and heartbroken, he also resolves move on and start fresh on more upbeat and energetic tracks. On Friend Zone, easily Drunk’s catchiest track, Thundercat vows to get back on his feet and get over his troubles, a song that is equal parts melancholy as it is empowering.
Bruner’s eclecticism shines on this project too – some of these tracks have such an infectious and surreal energy to them. Captain Stupido’s ridiculous hook is unforgettable (I feel weird / Comb your beard, brush your teeth / Still feel weird / Beat your meat, go to sleep), while fast paced instrumental interludes like Uh Uh and Day & Night are groovy and captivating. The psychedelic electronica of Tokyo is jarring at first in the context of the album, but Thundercat adds his jazz-funk spin to it and makes it work.
Surprisingly, Drunk also features Them Changes, a track reused from Thundercat’s 2015 The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam EP, but it fits perfectly in the context of this album too. There’s nothing new about it, but this track’s compelling bass groove is entrancing and enticing. Several of Drunk’s shortest tracks are just as good too. Organ-heavy Bus In These Streets is light and dreamy, as is the drum heavy and Flying Lotus-esque track Where I’m Going. Every track on Drunk is subject to Bruner’s rigorous refinement and precise production style.
Thundercat has once again proved himself as one of modern neo soul and jazz-funk’s strongest performers, consistently delivering music that is smooth and alluring. Drunk is just another success for this bass master, an artist who is severely underappreciated for the value of his additions to modern music.