Review: Rocket Juice & the Moon – Rocket Juice & the Moon
Published on May 11th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
Damon Albarn, Flea and Tony Allen makes for quite the mini-supergroup purely in terms of personnel; a shame, then, that one of them seems to have been either too in awe of the situation or too busy whizzing around the studio to have satisfactorily stamped his mark on it.
Allen is a wonderful drummer, and for all his indulgence Flea is a superb bassist, so it’s no surprise that the former’s shuffly, involved rhythms drive so compellingly along with the latter’s funky concrete squiggles. Albarn is a singer and songwriter of proven excellence, so why not give those talents free rein to elevate a diverting curio into something altogether more rewarding? This first-hand testimony from K’Naan (read his answer to our question “Has that been released yet?”) suggests that it may be his still-burning enthusiasm for the whole recording process that might have prevented him from seizing more control of this project; perhaps it is simply a case of the attendant rhythm section lending itself more to experimental jams than pop songwriting, but whatever it is it feels like a shame that Albarn only provides lead vocals for two of these eighteen tracks.
That’s not to say that there isn’t some splendid material on Rocket Juice & the Moon; Erykah Badu’s cool-as-you-like delivery of “I wish you well on your journey to the sun” ices the psychedelic funk cake of “Hey Shooter”, “Forward Sweep” comes across as a kind of ’70s prog re-imagining of Add N to (X), while “Follow-Fashion” and “Chip Up” throw Tropicalia and hip-hop into the mix, the former one of a few tracks here to feature the lounging, lyrically sharp (if upsetting in this instance, given that he appears to be talking about his or someone else’s wife passing away) contributions of Ghanaian rapper M.anifest.
Then there’s delightfully odd, good-natured skank of “Check Out”, the parping, psychedelic glow-worm-infested “There” and the cartoon-bad-guy brass of “The Unfadable”. Meanwhile, Albarn lays down a gorgeous lead vocal on the synthily ambient, Think Tank-like meditation “Poison” – lovely harmonies, too – and also comes forward for “Benko”, but at the risk of sounding like a Blur fan boy it’s not enough to satisfy notions of what his involvement might entail.
As a document of Flea and Tony Allen in tandem, and a showcase for some lesser-known musicians and arrangers (Cheick Tidiane Seck, Fatoumata Diawara, Thundercat, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble), this is entirely worthwhile. As a dinner party soundtrack, it’s funky, unobtrusive and non-bland. As an actual album that you’ll want to return to in the future…well, one or two more fully-formed songs wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Rocksucker says: Three Quails out of Five!