Release Date: Mar 26, 2012
Record label: Honest Jon's
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, International, African Traditions, Afro-beat
Convened by high-concept ADD multitasker Damon Albarn, this Afro-futurist jam session adds roiling rhythms from 71-year-old drummer Tony Allen – known for the immortal grooves he cut with Fela Kuti in the Seventies – to corroded space-age keyboards (Albarn) and low-gravity bass lines (Flea). The group offers rides to a crew of collaborators. Erykah Badu gets cyborg-y (see "Hey, Shooter"); Ghanian rapper M.anifest and Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara represent; techno legend Mark Ernestus mixes.
Damon Albarn does supergroups as regularly as other people do the washing up. This year's ensemble includes Tony Allen, Flea, Erykah Badu, Fatoumata Diawara and the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble. Allen is the centre of the group: from the very first track, Fela Kuti's legendary drummer sets a loose, funky template on which all his collaborators can elaborate.
It’s hard to read much about Rocket Juice & the Moon online without running into the oft-mentioned story of how they got their name—it was the title given to the album’s sleeve art by its creator, Lagotian artist Ogunajo Ademola. Damon Albarn, the prolific musical force behind Blur, Gorillaz, The Good, the Bad & the Queen, DRC Music, and, now, Rocket Juice & the Moon, saw the title and figured it would do for a band name, expressing distaste for the process of having to name yet another project. That’s an impressive list of past work—with not a clunker to be found—and while Rocket Juice & the Moon probably won’t be at the top of that list for most people, the album doesn’t come close to disappointing, either.
Given the high profile of Rocket Juice & the Moon's core members -- Damon Albarn, Flea, and Tony Allen -- the project is technically a supergroup, but there's a humility on their self-titled debut that makes it the work of a true collective. Dub, Afro-pop, and rap were growing fixations in Albarn's post-Blur years, and he brings all of these fascinations together with the help of Allen, with whom he collaborated on the considerably less vibrant the Good, the Bad & the Queen, and with Flea, who might seem to be the odd man out on paper, but blends in expertly with the rest of the players here. Indeed, the trio seems more than willing to let its guest vocalists come to the fore on Rocket Juice & the Moon.
On one hand, we all should have seen this shit coming. Damon Albarn, veteran songwriter-chameleon behind Blur’s classic Britpop stylings and the electro-dub stew of Gorillaz, isn’t exactly a stranger to off-beat projects or random collaborations: The short-lived The Good, The Bad, & The Queen featured the talents of—if you recall—former Clash bassist Paul Simonon and Fela Kuti drummer Tony Allen, and he recently finished a, yes, opera, the upcoming Dr. Dee.
Rocket Juice & the Moon is one of three albums steered by former Blur frontman Damon Albarn scheduled for release before this summer. For a presumably rich man, he keeps busy. He also understands the value of what I like to call the "container." The container is a set of limitations, an acknowledgement that on any given project there's no feasible way to have it all, and attempting to have it all is one of the first steps to failure.
No stranger to all-star collaborations – witness Gorillaz and the Good, the Bad & the Queen – Damon Albarn's latest project finds him joining forces with Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea and Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen, together with assorted guests. While there are moments when everything falls into place (the Erykah Badu-assisted "Hey, Shooter"; a rare Albarn vocal on "Poison"; the sense of space on "Extinguished"), too often technical proficiency trumps songwriting. The instrumental likes of "Worries", "Night Watch" and the menacing "Check Out" are rhythmically complex and deftly performed, yet still they struggle to engage the listener.
Rocket Juice & the Moon is an album full of red herrings: First, there’s the pseudo-futuristic moniker, pointing toward ultramodern electronica instead of the only slightly progressive takes on West African funk and Afrobeat that permeate these 17 tracks. Then, on “Hey, Shooter!,” Erykah Badu insists that we should brace ourselves for a journey to the sun and beyond. In fact, we never come close to escaping our troposphere, settling solely and completely into the shapeless and formless jazz-funk grooves of Western Africa.
Supergroups are of two varieties: a heterogeneous mashup of styles (e.g. Oysterhead), or like-minded, stylistically homogenous artists (e.g. Wild Flag, Cream). At first glance, Rocket Juice and the Moon, comprised of Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz) on guitar, Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers) on bass, and Tony Allen (Fela Kuti) on drums, falls into the former category.
Not that they were ever bosom buddies or anything, but it shows how far Damon Albarn and Thom Yorke’s artistic obsessions have diverged when the main thing linking them now is a raisin-faced Los Angeleno best known for playing bass in a manner suggestive of having a big old wank. This man, of course, is Flea – Red Hot Chili Pepper and plank-spanker-for-hire, currently lending his talents to Yorke’s Atoms For Peace and Albarn’s Rocket Juice & The Moon. As awful as Flea is – and let’s be clear: he has done some abhorrently awful things – it is sort of understandable why Albarn might wish to procure his services.
A set of very loose and very odd funk from bass master Flea and some famous friends. John Doran 2012. To enjoy this excellent album, it probably helps to bear certain things in mind. First, you should be aware that this is a funk album. A very odd funk album, but a funk album nonetheless. If you do ….