Thank the fates Sean Lennon’s Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger opened for Les Claypool’s Primus last summer because it led to a bonding that resulted in The Claypool Lennon Delirium. Their outstanding debut album, Monolith of Phobos, takes listeners on a marvelous psychedelic-rock trip, simultaneously back to the ’60s while traversing the present.
The duo begins by setting a course for “The Monolith of Phobos” with sounds of futuristic machinery preparing for the journey as they tinker with their instruments. Main character Buzz is affected by the Monolith, making him ponder life, which only brings more questions as will the other songs on this album.
“Cricket and the Genie” appears in two movements. The first (The Delirium) is a fuzzed-out rocker with a driving beat. It tells of Cricket falling prey to the Genie (prescription drugs) at a very early age. The mellotron signals the blissful respite, which doesn’t last long. Then in “(Movement II, Oratorio di Cricket)”, the loop of addiction manifests itself with the haunting arrangement that slowly fades away and the repeated line of lyrics “You oughta try it, you really oughta try it…”.
“Mr. Wright” seems much more like a Primus song with the strong bass lines and Claypool tells the story of “good old fine upstanding Mr. Wright” who is”creeping, creeping, creeping, creeping through the night to ease his lustful plight,” but the echo-affected guitar and the keyboards make it something else.
Lennon sings of “Boomerang Baby,” a much more sympathetic story of a woman “drowning in stimulation” due to her smartphone. The guitar winds through the driving beat of the bass and drums with wonderful mellotron flourishes.
“Captain Lariat” could be a sea shanty about its drug-addled title character who “in his mind he’s above the cut.” There are psychedelic flourishes at the beginning of the chorus, and then it blasts off on such a rockin’ instrumental coda it that it would seem like a different song if themes weren’t repeated.
It’s back to the mellotron and Lennon singing lead on “Ohmerica,” a song reminiscent of The Eels that riffs on concern over the folks in charge who tell you “best not to question, the things that you’re told.”
The music of “Oxycontin Girl” makes for a joyful toe-tapper, but the story Claypool sings about the “drama club kid/ [who] moved to New York” is just heartbreaking and likely more common than anyone realizes. “Bubbles Burst” is another sad tale, although much more unique. It segues into the last song, the instrumental “There’s No Underwear in Space,” which offers a few moments to decompress.
For those who miss when Syd Barrett led Pink Floyd and other purveyors of similar sounds in the late ’60s and early ’70s, The Claypool Lennon Delirium – Monolith of Phobos is a marvelous musical blending of drug-influenced genres with drug-infused characters. Guaranteed to be on my “Best of 2016” list.