It would be a hard press to find a musician in this day and age that can honestly say they take no influence from The Beatles. The work of The Beatles transcends time and genre, whether it be studio techniques or songwriting structure, their impact having leaked into all styles of music since their inception in 1960. Consequently, it would only be fitting that the most appropriate artist to sound like the Liverpool legends would in fact be John Lennon’s own son, Sean. Comprising one half of The Claypool Lennon Delirium, Sean Ono Lennon and Primus bassist Les Claypool have teamed up to produce a Beatles-inspired album filtered through their own bizarre views of society. Following their 2016 release Monolith of Phobos, South of Reality is a combination of the classic Lennon sound with heavy funk bass, resulting in a fresh take on a very vintage sound.
This record is a 47-minute sonic journey of sounds, ranging from bass-heavy prog-rock numbers to psychedelic soundscapes. South of Reality is a showcasing of two well-established musicians, both through their songwriting and multi-instrumental abilities. The album is so intricate and layered that it does take a few spins to unpack fully and at first listen, it does sound almost a carbon copy of a variety of different Beatles sounds from across their entire discography. The mix of pop and psychedelic style, the use of instrumentation, including the sitar, and the songwriting structure are all clear references to Lennon’s father’s influence. However, after multiple listens it starts to come into its own with heavy prog-rock inspirations clearly evident.
The record opens with fluctuating number “Little Fishes”, an amalgamation of both delicate and robust songwriting. Easing into the album with light and precise guitar and vocal lines before Claypool’s bassline increases the intensity for the remainder of the song. Topical observations of modern society dominate the lyrics of this piece. “Gone are the days, when you didn’t need Wifi to help you find someone to kiss” and “Is the Golden Goose laying 3D printed eggs?” are two examples of poignant tongue-in-cheek lines describing the pair’s feelings towards the privilege of youth and the breakdown of contemporary society. Overall, it is a strong opener and sets the expectation for the proceeding tracks.
Lennon and Claypool are not afraid of extensive song lengths, with five of the nine songs pushing past the five-minute mark. They are also not afraid of lengthy song titles with track two, the amply named “Blood and Rockets – Movement I, Saga of Jack Parsons – Movement II, Too the Moon”. The track itself is six and a half minutes in length and is the first single off the record. This song has a bit of everything – bouncing verses, backbeat choruses accompanying Lennon’s gentle falsetto and a “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”-style outro, complete with frantic guitar solos and moving arpeggios.
The title track “South of Reality” is a darker, panic-stricken number based around the idea of an eclipse, in an almost science-fiction universe. It rushes along at a desperate pace, creating a sense of urgency and alarm. It also features a shredding synth solo, crushed under a series of filters and growing in intensity as it climbs in pitch, suggestive of Theremins used in early sci-fi soundtracks. As one of the shortest songs on the album, it packs a lot into a short span of time and holds its own amongst the more elaborate numbers.
Track four “Boriska” biographically immortalises the story of Boriska Kipriyanovich, a gifted child who claimed to have been an “alien pilot and indigo child sent from the red planet.” Claypool and Lennon poke fun at the theory with semi-serious quips about how clever the boy was to create these fantasies. The story is backdropped by another contrasting piece of music, moving from steady guitar chords to the agitated drum and bass riff of the outro. Much like other tracks on the LP, “Boriska” floats between a number of different grooves and ideas, moulding measured even-paced sections into hurried and restless passages that work well in tandem with each other.
The second single “Easily Charmed by Fools” sees Claypool and Lennon repeatedly attack modern society and the political structures of the world. “She’s easily charmed by fools. She likes to swipe right for pretty boys on Tinder.” This piece is a commentary on the state of youth and their naivety when it comes to online habits. It also takes a stab at right-wing gun lobbyists; “They go to the right so they can pick their pistols. Desperate measures lead to desperate situations,” suggestive of the current climate of America and its constant battle with gun laws. Claypool and Lennon are not afraid to call out injustice and discuss heavy political issues. The music of this track is one of the heaviest on the record, leaning towards a funk-rock style with rapid bass fills and stabbing guitar hits creating a foreboding and sinister setting.
“Amethyst Realm” is the third single off the album and the longest, coming in at a typical prog-rock length of over seven minutes. Exploring themes of ghostly love and incorporeal devotion, this song covers a vast range of sounds, mysterious and ethereal to begin with before becoming more deliberate and direct during the back half. The solo section is reminiscent of early 2000s Red Hot Chili Peppers’ live work, capturing that idiosyncratic John Frusciante style before seamlessly transitioning into a soaring synth solo, undoubtedly demonstrating Lennon’s proficiency to play.
The last three numbers on the record are more experimental in their nature, which is to say they are slightly off-kilter and rather strange. “Toady Man’s Hour” exhibits Claypool’s heavily picked bass and unique voice, sounding similar to Modest Mouse frontman Isaac Brock’s rough, strangled vocals.
“Cricket Chronicles Revisited – Part I, Ask Your Doctor – Part II, Psyde Effects” features possibly the most bizarre ending of any song ever written, listing out the potential “Psyde effects” which need to be heard to be believed, including, but not limited to dusty nipples, fish lips, an increased desire to river dance and listen to Dexys Midnight Runners, amongst others. This part is best listened to in stereo, as the voice starts to slip out of phase with itself, creating an absorbing experience.
The last track “Like Fleas” refers to Mother Earth dispelling humans “like fleas on the back of the dog, eventually we’ll be shaken off.” Another in a long line of apocalyptically-charged themes and a fitting way to end the album, even if it is unusual.
There is so much happening throughout this record that it can sometimes sound like an entirely different record after multiple listens. Some parts have a tendency to feel satirical and it can be difficult to get a grasp on the implied meanings of the lyrics, however, these shortcomings are mostly outweighed by the sheer size and ambition of the music. Despite the obvious connections to rock history that Lennon and Claypool both have, they manage to rise above the typecast that many would impose on them and have created an album that is uniquely theirs.