Damon Albarn’s obvious analogue is David Byrne, a guy bored with his not-exactly-basic rock band and far more interested in setting up collaborations between world-class musicians and positioning himself as the nucleus, the Pop Star With Taste. But how about Tony Allen, who’s clearly the Dave Grohl of Afrobeat? Like Grohl, he’s a colossally skilled drummer yet still approachable, which might explain how he’s worked with everybody. With Chili Pepper-turned-Thom Yorke-gun-for-hire Flea somewhere in between the two, Rocket Juice & The Moon could be these superstars’ own Them Crooked Vultures. (The goofy name sure matches up.) But while Rocket Juice & The Moon, like Vultures, doesn’t seem built to go the distance, its pocket Afrofunk grooves sure have a better shelf life than muscle-crunch rock.
Albarn worked previously with Allen on another one-off, The Good, The Bad & The Queen, and even though it was low-key, low-concept music, Albarn was clearly commanding the ship. The far more aggressive and intricate Rocket Juice & The Moon has Allen driving, with Flea riding shotgun. It’s no surprise then that Moon contains the most sustained grooves Albarn’s ever played on. With a supporting cast that includes Erykah Badu and low-end czar Thundercat, the resulting 18-song album is a shockingly listenable mixtape session of the gods.
Highlights come from everyone’s little pieces: The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble shines on the standout “Lolo,” while Flea showcases a melodic side on “Poison” to counterbalance his slapping everywhere else, and Albarn riffs on some exceptionally pretty wah-wah keyboard tricks on “There.” But Allen’s rubber-tight interplay with all the rhythm elements on a two-minute track like “Night Watch” (which channels both Another Green World and Flying Lotus) is bound to be underrated by those looking for some deeper meaning. In doses this impeccably edited and segued, nothing needs to be deeper than the funk.