Damon Albarn Escalates the Oddball-Musical-Collaboration Arms Race to Dangerous Heights

At one point, not that long ago, certain cross-genre dream collaborations were comically impossible to imagine. And then, all of a sudden, and it’s not exactly clear when it happened, the music industry’s mind-set on CGDCs blew right past “impossible” to “not only possible, but going to happen, again and again and again.” Damon Albarn’s the latest instigator: He’s pulled in Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea and Fela Kuti drummer Tony Allen (second-best all-time Tony Allen, though, obvs) for a band called Rocket Juice and the Moon. Their debut album, which will feature Erykah Badu (!), is due out March 12. Says Allen: “It is all funk. Groove music, music that makes you dance. The audience don’t want to sit and listen, they want to move their bodies.”

Albarn’s something of a connoisseur when it comes to this kind of gig. Post-Blur, he’s done Gorillaz with comic book artist Jamie Hewlett, plus occasionally The Clash’s Mick Jones and Paul Simonon. He’s also done The Good, the Bad, and the Queen, which had Simonon again, Allen again, and The Verve’s Simon Tong, and was produced by Danger Mouse. Flea’s been active in this vein as well, teaming up with Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke and producer Nigel Godrich in Atoms for Peace. Looking further afield, recent years have offered no shortage: the maligned Lou Reed-Metallica album; the Black Keys + rappers project, Blakroc; the underground “rapper-ass rappers” group Slaughterhouse. Even Watch the Throne would have felt like a pipe dream not that long ago. In years past, it was enough to throw a couple of guys together on a flirting-with-novelty single; now, dudes have to go out and make a whole album, or even form a whole band and be together forever. How are you supposed to compete with two of the biggest rappers alive joining forces?

It can make for some wonderful music, to be sure, but every time another band adds another notch of “whuuuuut” unexpectedness in their musical collaborations, it makes it that much more difficult to top. The next time a famed Britpop front man wants to join forces with a mononymous funk-rock bassist, he won’t be able to until he ropes in a legendary Afrobeat drummer. And then, really, will he be able to stop there? Or will the current arms race dictate that he add a long-dormant but still-vocally-pristine ’60s girl-group member, or maybe a shredding hair-metal guitarist? And then what? Every band has to have 100 members, and they all have to be awesome in their own special way?! Damon Albarn, sir — what have you wrought?

Filed Under: Damon Albarn, Music

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Amos Barshad has written for New York Magazine, Spin, GQ, XXL, and the Arkansas Times. He is a staff writer for Grantland.

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