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. Yet Albarn and Flea have totally absorbed Allen’s Nigerian funk soundworld while still contributing their own idiosyncratic stamps. The result is a highly enjoyable album of Afrobeat music accented with edgy bass and artsy guitar/synth melodies.
“Hey, Shooter”, with guest vocals from Erykah Badu, distills the best of this group’s sound into a taut four minutes. Flea’s bass lines retain his trademark pop and attack, but settle into a smoother groove than on most RHCP songs. Similarly, Albarn crafts repetitive riffs of an indie/art-rock character that seamlessly integrate into the weave of drums, bass, horns, and smooth vocals.
Other musical styles are present that carry each member’s individual personality: The Britpop of “Poison” is the album’s only tune with a traditional verse/chorus form, featuring a soulful vocal performance from Albarn; “Check Out” is synth-heavy dub. On “Night Watch” and “Rotary Connection”, one senses Flea’s and Albarn’s aesthetics poking through more, with aggressively funky bass leading the way under lots of analog synth, all above a much jazzier and rhythmically complex beat.
Regrettably, “Night Watch”, “Rotary Connection”, and eight other tracks last only two minutes (out of 18 total). Each seems like a snippet from a much longer jam, but the band has excerpted their favorite bits of improv and called each a song. As such, we get glimpses into the magic, but even the five minute “There” fades out mid-phrase. Since the Chili Peppers are on tour through 2013, it might be a while until these guys really stretch out live. In the meantime, we’ll happily settle for this debut.
Essential Tracks: “Hey, Shooter”, “Lolo”, “Follow-Fashion”, “Night Watch”, “There”, “Fatherless”