Even right on the face of it, a project which features contributions from Les Claypool and Sean Lennon screams intrigue and instant sub-cultural credibility. Lennon has spent the duration of his career riding the fact that he is his father’s son as well as illustrating that his dad’s fine pop songwriting chops really are a genetic gift, while Claypool has spent toe duration of his career illustrating that generic lines – between punk, funk, metal, prog and, really, any other damned thing which may ensnare the bassist’s attention for a minute – are really nothing more than gauche, shortsighted constructs which should be summarily rejected. Simply said, these two men could easily be seen as opposite sides of the same coin with Lennon representing fine pop savvy and Claypool embodying a fantastic mixture of EVERYTHING ELSE; theoretically, they are diametrically opposed, but one could not possibly feel quite as satisfying without the other for contrast. It may seem unlikely, but that’s precisely how Monolith of Phobos is when it’s at its best – the thoroughly weird and genre-less converges with pristine pop and each fills in the holes and flaws that the other always features, and what listeners get in the end is what can only be described as good, weird brilliance.
You’re skeptical, I can tell. Readers should check that disbelief at the rangey, sort of gurgling intro to “The Monolith of Phobos” as it opens the album though, because that’s the last moment they’ll get before they’re swept away into a beautiful, vibrant and (unlike the other projects which have featured Claypool’s unabashedly underground-identified talents) universally inviting atmosphere. Here, no one really gets to play “star” for anything other than the talents that everyone knows the players possess (both Lennon and Claypool trade off on vocal responsibilities as well as writing on a track-by-track basis), and that basically means what listeners get is a genuine co-operative effort, but the really cool part is how well it proves to work.
Standout tracks like (the more punk-flavored and angry-feeling) “Mr. Wright,” (the dozier, more sonorous) “Boomerang Baby,” “Breath of a Salesman” (which sounds about as close to Pink Floyd as Claypool has ever allowed himself to come) and the breathtaking balancing act “Omerica” (where that beautiful, poppy streak comes to its greatest fruition as a Beatles melody interacts with a humming Claypool) all illustrate that this partnership may indeed be unlikely, but that does not mean the music which springs from it can’t be engaging, beautiful and unusual, all at once. As one listens, the conclusion that this project is the pay-off Claypool had hoped to achieve when he and Primus embarked upon a recreation of the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory soundtrack could understandably and correctly be reached.
After listeners have exited Monolith of Phobos through the space-y, chilly and minor-key closer which is “There’s No Underwear in Space,” listeners will find that, while they may have been uncertain at how well this album could possibly go when they began with it, it’s very possibly the best album they’ve heard from both Claypool and Lennon in years. Monolith of Phobos is a fantastic balance of unlikely genius which sounds fresh every time it starts.