Caleb Landry Jones – best known for his acting – has decided that 2020 is the year to release his debut album, The Mother Stone, on the world. Now, if you’ve become a little jaded towards actors releasing albums (who hasn’t?), and see this as yet another bank-balance-boostin’, career-enhancin’ cash-in, then think again.
Jones’ new record proves that everything you’ve heard about actors releasing albums is wrong. If anyone ever writes off an actor’s album without listening to it again (even your present author), politely remind them that they have spoken untruths; secondarily, they are slanders; sixth and lastly, they have belied a lady; thirdly, they have verified unjust things; and, to conclude, they are lying knaves.
Jones, despite all of his acting credits, isn’t the most well-known actor in the world. He’d barely make the top 500. So let that put your fears to rest. Despite all of the dangers inherent in releasing a retro-sounding album in the modern climate, this is actually a sincere and rather haunting collection of bizarro-world glam-rock and oddball skronk that seems to have been beamed in directly from the tail end of the ‘60s on the Planet Of The Apes.
And it’s practically perfect. Not in delivery, or sound, or inspiration, but in execution. This is an album indebted to the bewildering experience of listening to some of the Great Rock Bands for the first time and realising that a lot of what they released is actually fucking weird. As such, Jones’ music is heavily indebted to The Beatles (’66-’68), but it also draws from Frank Zappa and the Mothers Of Invention, T Rex and Syd Barrett. This is classic rock music, and it’s psychedelic in the original sense – the experience of listening to it accurately conjures the experience of being on drugs.
There are two negative points, so let’s deal with those first. It is too long, and almost every track is absolute nightmare fuel – many are stretched out, progressive numbers with more than a slight sinister undertone. Over an album that feels this long, that feeling of anxiety and dread can be taxing. Yet aside from these minor gripes, the positives are nearly endless. Opener Flag Day/The Mother Stone opens up sounding like The Beatles jamming with Tom Waits and Captain Beefheart in hell, with all of their classic hallmark sounds crammed together into one ugly fantasia. When Jones’ voice emerges from the blackness around three-and-a-half minutes in, the track suddenly flips into a grungey rocker that evokes the first Pink Floyd album (or maybe even Ty Segall?).
You’re So Wonderfull, which follows, largely carries on the lingering sense of dread: its progressive nature is bewildering, and Jones’ schizophrenic vocal delivery is terrifying. I Dig Your Dog takes a maximalist, Sgt Pepper’s approach, and pulls it off with impressive results. Katya is the first track on the record that allows the listener to pause and take a breath, with its languid vocal lines and epic orchestration. The more maximalist tracks – I Want to Love You, No Where’s Where Nothing’s Died (A Marvellous Pain) Thanks For Staying – are deftly sequenced next to more sedate tracks (‘sedate’ being relative, in this sense), for maximum impact. Each and every track flows into the next, as though it were the soundtrack to Satan’s own cabaret show, performed live. You could try to count how many tempo changes, false-endings, key changes or personality switches go into the record, but you’d lose count after the first three tracks. And how to end an album like this? With absolute chaos, of course. Little Planet Pig starts smooth and serene, peaks with a few seconds of absolute terrifying mayhem, then ends with a playfully delivered outro.
It’s hard to believe that albums like this are still being made, for it plays like a record that was hidden away from the world for 50 years, came to life in its cave, and has now emerged to take its revenge on its captors. Simply put, his music seems alive, and utterly modern – despite its clear and obvious debt to The Beatles. Jones may face accusations that his album is derivative (it is), or that he’s playing it safe by opting to use the tools of the greatest band of all time (he’s not), but ultimately, listeners have to recognise that if it was this easy, everyone would do it. This is a staggering work, a monumental achievement – and easily eclipses any of Jones’ acting to date. We can only hope that, despite the obvious difficulties, he attempts to perform these songs live, and with the full instrumentation – something The Beatles never managed to do. Because The Mother Stone is a modern classic.