Heading South of Reality with the Lennon-Claypool Delirium
With their first release, the Claypool Lennon Delirium made it clear how they came up with their name. Monolith of Phobos, released in 2016, was a dizzying swirl of sounds that swept you up into a freaky parallel universe that you never imagined existed. Mysterious. Magical. Euphoria, indeed!
Three years on, Les Claypool (best known for heading up Primus, along with various side/solo projects) and Sean Lennon (an eclectic artist whose music projects are too numerous to list here, and oh yes, John and Yoko’s son) have returned with South of Reality, just over 45 minutes of giddy, trippy weirdness. At least, that’s what you’ll think if your only consideration is just getting your groove on while the duo’s lavish and lush sounds flow around you. For Claypool/Lennon have lyrics that poke and prod, hinting at darker truths lurking underneath. As in the opening track “Little Fishes,” which initially seems as if it’s going to be a charming little ditty, but suddenly takes an unexpected step sideways:
Mercury makes it way into the skin of little fishes
who swim across the vast and murky terrain
They make their way onto the dishes
of men who gobble little fishes
as the mercury settles in their soft and supple brains
Oh my. And much of the album is also concerned with such cautionary tales. Take the first the two sections of “Cricket Chronicles Revisited” (a continuation of the song “Cricket and the Genie” on Monolith). The insinuating Eastern rhythms of “Ask Your Doctor” don’t soothe, but rather stoke the paranoia of living in a world where “Evil things are becoming normalized.” But at least there’s something of a gentle comedown in part two, “Psyde Effects,” with a melody gently played on a guitar while voices continue babbling about the various conditions that may be induced by your medication. “Easily Charmed by Fools” is a swipe at those anesthetized by the glow of our ever-present screens (phone, television, computer). “Toady Man” is a tart portrait of a creepy man in authority — take your pick as to who that is — who finally gets his comeuppance (there’s a great send off in the fadeout, when you can hear a cultured English voice proclaiming, “I once met the Toady Man, and he’s actually quite charming”).
Admittedly, all easy targets. But the off-kilter, kaleidoscopic quality of the music (you never know what’s coming at you next) keeps the spirits bright, so things never get too mean-spirited. There are some interesting side excursions as well. “Amethyst Realm” is a coolly erotic story about a late night encounter with a ghost. The remarkable “Blood and Rockets” relates the story of Jack Parsons, a rocket engineer who was also an occultist, and whose experiments led to his blowing himself up in his laboratory —now, there’s a guy you won’t see immortalized in many other rock songs! “Better be careful, boys,” Lennon mischievously croons in the chorus, “You just might set the world on fire.”
Claypool and Lennon have created a wild and wonderful playground to romp around in. It’s jolly good fun, even when they’re predicting doom. For by their reckoning, we’ll get our due, someday soon, as they contemplate the end in “Like Fleas.” It’s one of the most cheerful songs you’ll ever hear about the eradication of humanity by a Mother Earth who’s tired of our foolish ways. But it was a good time while it lasted, eh?