Written by Andrew Howie
We’ve seen the final curtain calls of several musical greats this year: Lemmy, Bowie, Prince, Bernie Worrell, Rob Wasserman, Merle Haggard, the list goes on. It’s been frustrating for fans everywhere, as the era of the true rock stars is coming to a close. However, there is a spark in the night, and it’s growing brighter every day. Artists collaborate more and more these days to create unique tunes that will withstand generations, just as their forebears did. So far, for me at least, none of these combinations has been more satisfying than the Claypool Lennon Delirium, featuring bassmaster extraordinaire Les Claypool of Primus, and Sean Lennon, whose father I shouldn’t have to explain to you, but he wrote songs for a little British group called the Beatles.
The debut album of the unlikely duo, Monolith of Phobos, is electrifying. It’s almost more of an opera than a standard rock album. Don’t get me wrong, it’s full of that oddball skronk that makes Primus so unique, but with the 60s-soaked psychedelia of Sean Lennon channeling his father to create a mind-bending trip through an aural painting. Their voices actually sound surprisingly fitting together, and the instrumental passages keep the record moving at just the right pace.
Normally I don’t like to talk about an album song by song, but this is just such a cool record that I felt compelled to do it. Please don’t let my woefully inadequate descriptions of the music dissuade you from checking this album out. The title track sets the tone before moving into the prog-jam space-rock of the two-part “Cricket and the Genie” and the spastic “Mr. Wright”, followed by the brooding dream-pop of “Boomerang Baby”. The funky “Breath of a Salesman” stomps its way into the march of “Captain Lariat” and the gradually gives way to the haunting “Ohmerica” and the morose “Oxycontin Girl”, which is probably the most ‘Primus’ moment of the album. The Summer of ‘68-influenced “Bubbles Burst” sounds like it could be a John Lennon B-side song. Closing track “There’s No Underwear in Space” is tripped-out ambient slosh, an excellent bow-tie on a great record.
Really though, the songs work better played straight through. It’s a remarkably cohesive album that really seemed to just be something fun for Claypool and Lennon to do on a weekend, no real consequences or risks involved, and that may just be what makes it work so well. Both musicians are in the upper crust of their respective scenes and have legions of dedicated fans, so the lack of pressure might have contributed to the relaxed tone of Monolith. It also helps that the songwriting is of generally high quality. Even the “filler tracks” are good enough for multiple listens, and though the album may not officially be a concept album, it certainly works as one.
This is one of the most fun albums I’ve listened to in a long time. It’s smart, naturally, but not overly serious. Dense yet expansive, solid yet messy, and with just enough of each contributor’s distinct personality to appeal to fans of each and draw in new ones. Monolith of Phobos will be in heavy rotation for quite some time for me, and I hope for you as well.
Rating 9.5 out of 10