None of these tracks offer anything as close to the superb ideas of the fat bassline that powered the first half of “Chameleon” or the whistling “Watermelon Man” (though I’d place the theme of “Butterfly” after those), the closest thing Thrust has to exotic is a bass clarinet (again, on “Butterfly”), and barring – you guessed it – “Butterfly,” none of these tracks have any direction, whereas “Chameleon” smashed two ideas together into one unit while “Sly” had the whole band building to a sprint. In other words, no, this is nowhere near as good an album as Head Hunters is, and it’s quite obvious why this one only sold amicably in comparison and was largely forgotten thereafter.
Opener “Palm Grease” starts with a minute taken straight out of Miles Davis’ “Black Satin,” but with shakers instead of sleighbells (this is what Davis should have been angry about), tossed away immediately for Mike Clark’s entrance. The only positive difference between Thrust and Head Hunters as a whole is Mike Clark replacing Head Hunters’ Harvey Mason, and Clark’s entrance on “Palm Grease” at the 1:18 mark is the best soundbite of the entire album, dishing out a melodic groove on cowbells before the rest of the band joins in thereafter (which, ironically, justifies the existence of the previous meandering minute; it would’ve been a lot worse to have just been thrown into at the 1:18 mark).
Unfortunately, once that groove is established, nothing special happens until the last minute or so of the song (starting at the 9:40 mark) where Hancock creates an alien atmosphere for an aural portrait of the cover (cool cover, while I’m on the subject, though it’s a lie in that none of these tracks really launch you anywhere, let alone to another planet on a spaceship) and plays some hooky climbs (starting at the 9:52 mark). That’s 8 minutes in between those two points where you’re listening to the same groove and improvisations and interplays between the band that don’t go anywhere or even try to. (And it’s not even like holding a few notes on a synth or playing some hooky climbs are all that impressive in the first place.) Closer “Spank-A-Lee” fares even worse; Herbie Hancock uses a frankly disgusting synth sound in the first half (like nails running down a chalkboard) that’s meant to give the track a sci-fi feel (I’m guessing, here) and only succeeding in making me want to hit skip. The second half (if you make it there) has the band slowing down and you’re left sitting there, waiting for them to pick up again.
Though Herbie Hancock (occasionally joined in by Bennie Maupin’s flute) actually does something impressive over Mike Clark’s forearm workout on “Actual Proof,” it doesn’t do much beyond being listenable. “Butterfly” is the best of the bunch (in case you hadn’t figured that out already from the praise in the first paragraph), the only track on Thrust or Head Hunters that recalls Herbie Hancock’s colorful output from the 60s and the only one that’s traditionally minded (again, recalling Herbie Hancock’s colorful output from the 60s), but still having a subtle groove so it doesn’t feel like a complete anomaly on the record and helping the longest track on the album float by without any ado.