Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Lennon/Claypool Delirium and Homelessness

Almost immediately after I got back from the cruise, I began to transition into my new position in the North Texas area. Within a week, I was commuting from Austin to Denton, effectively homeless and relying on the hospitality of friends for a place to sleep. I spent a lot of time driving up and down I-35, and it would seem like a prime time to crank through a whole bunch of music, but my in-car CD rotation has remained basically static since the June roundup. This is partially because the CD collection is  still in boxes, but admittedly, I also have had a hard time letting go of this run of music. In retrospect, this collection of albums seems like a thread of continuity though that period.

And it feels as if I am still clinging to them, as they also represent the last vestiges of my Austin life: Weezer [white], A Moon Shaped Pool, The Force Awakens OST, Plastic House at Base of Sky, Some Boots, The Invention of Knowledge, Bottomless Pit, Get to Heaven, and The Monolith of Phobos. These albums all contain frozen moments from those long commutes. Rather then do an extended roundup of albums that I have mostly already addressed, however, the curious case of The Lennon/Claypool Delerium’s The Monolith of Phobos deserves specific mention (also because some readers asked for it).

Although I am a fan of both Les Claypool and Sean Lennon, I would never have predicted them collaborating. Over the past few years, Lennon waded through introspective pop waters into 60’s tinged psychedelia while Claypool, when not fronting Primus, seemed fully committed to the jam-band paradigm. Still, the two have found some common ground and despite the seeming oddness of their pairing, it works.

Any project that includes Les Claypool has to deal with the fact that no matter what happens, comparisons to Primus are inevitable. Despite being far more mercurial in his musicianship, however, Lennon’s nuanced songwriting and melodic strengths provide a compelling counterbalance to Claypool’s penchant for groovy ditties about all the freaks and weirdos he knows.

Furthermore, A quick look at the liner notes shows that the album is, indeed, created and performed entirely by Claypool and Lennon. Lennon has his share of convincing guitar and keyboard leads, but Claypool clearly bears the shredding burden. His bass playing is at an all-time high in terms of its melodic content. Lennon’s greatest strengths shine through as an arranger, but as a drummer, his performance is adequate, if sometimes frantic. While it works pretty well in the classic psychedelic style that they are shooting for, I can’t help but wonder what might have happened if the drums were outsourced - especially if Claypool is still on good terms with his old Oysterhead cohort and former Police drummer Stewart Copeland.

His presence, however, would endanger the project’s early Pink Floyd feel that, with some reinterpretation, the Delerium is pretty successful at capturing. This takes a little imagination to see: let’s say that if Roger Waters had an affinity for the Isley Brothers and Syd Barrett had not had a psychotic break, they might have developed a similar writing partnership as Claypool and Lennon.  Bubbles Burst is a good example of the way in which their unique characteristics mesh.

The video earned Lennon a bit of ire for its macabre characterization of Michael Jackson. It's important to note, however, that Lennon is not speaking as an outsider. He was one of several young celebrities that was invited to hang out at Neverland back in the day, which earns him the right to describe the experience however he sees fit.  Truth of the matter was, Jackson WAS weird, and just because he has passed on (due in part to his eccentricities) I don’t think that it is necessary to sweep Lennon’s perception of that whole scene under the carpet because it doesn’t portray Jackson in the most positive light. In fact, I think it's even more important because it is an honest recollection of a closed-door scene. Plus, it’s a actually a pretty good song.

And that’s the really impressive thing about The Monolith of Phobos. Despite all its quirkiness, it's an accessible listen. During one of our many family road trips during that month of homelessness, I put it on, fully prepared for the request to take it off and put in Everything Everything’s Get to Heaven again. I was surprised to watch the wife and kids bobbing their heads to the infectious funk shanty Captain Lariat. It became a family favorite that, like the Lennon/Claypool Delirium itself, I could not have predicted.