Music for Music: The Claypool Lennon Delirium
The Claypool Lennon Delirium: Serious Stuff
by Dan Ursini ©2017
It is a rare album which documents musicians caught in the act of finding themselves, but that is what happens during Monolith of Phobos, the debut effort released last summer by The Claypool Lennon Delirium. Originally intended to be an homage to the early progressive rock bands, it became an album showcasing Sean Lennon’s strengths as a songwriter, guitarist, and singer. Les Claypool proves adept at developing Lennon’s musical ideas even as he contributes plenty of his own. It is a remarkable piece of work that has been out for a while but still warrants attention, particularly since it has spawned any number of live performance videos and in-house Son-of-Claymation videos.
“I told Les that I was Neil Diamond’s nephew. I think that is what really sold him on the idea of working with me.” With these words, Sean Lennon drily deflects the usual comments about his parents, both pop culture immortals. He is a graceful guitarist, and there is much inherent musicality in his playing and singing. His intelligent, compassionate songwriting is compelling, especially when when it is focused on people from who live in rarefied yet unlucky terms. The most affecting is “Bubbles Burst” about Michael Jackson and his pet chimpanzee. All of Lennon’s songs here have elements of the Beatles during the White Album period, though shaped by his own expansive, edgy perspective.
As a bass guitarist steeped in both funk and metal traditions, Les Claypool has no equal. As a songwriter, he has a gift for riffs which are powerful and absolutely strange. He is the perfect collaborator for Lennon. Claypool and Lennon play all the instruments, trading off on everything, including drums. Claypool contributes some strong original songs. “Mr. Wright” is a blunt and funny piece about a guy who is pervasively creepy. This song has a killer groove with several dense manic layers.
As longtime experimental musicians, both Claypool and Lennon are used to the idea of ignoring the plan and following the moment. I am glad they did that here, with such a satisfying payoff. That sense of promise continues with Lime and Limpid Green, a just-released EP of spirited performances of progressive rock covers, including a true oddity, “Boris the Spider,” by The Who’s John Entwistle. As Claypool says, “Sean is a musical mutant after my own heart.” These guys are the real thing.
Dan Ursini and his wife Valerie live in Oak Park, Illinois. Over the years he has done many kinds of writing. Ursini served as the first resident playwright for the Steppenwolf Theatre of Chicago (1978-1983); he worked for ten years as a Contributing Editor for Puerto Del Sol magazine; he wrote performance art pieces presented at Chicago venues as Club Lower Links and Club Dreamerz. Ursini wrote radio theatre presented on NPR in the early 1990s. Throughout all this, he has worked full-time at the Law Library at DePaul University where for a decade he also wrote articles for Dialogue, the DePaul law school’s alumni publication. In addition, he was active for some years as a bass guitarist in various Chicago blues/gospel/funk/lounge configurations. Currently Ursini is working on his latest novel. A play he wrote with Robert Rothman, A Mensch Among Men, a fictionalized account of real-life Jewish Chicago-area gangsters, recently had two staged readings in Chicago. Dan can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org