From Bruce Willis to Russell Crowe to Johnny Depp, there is a long and ignominious history of actors producing questionable musical side-projects. The question is with his debut, is Get Out star Caleb Landry Jones about to add his name to that list?
Before getting into the music, the early warning signs are certainly mixed. On the one hand, this record is being put out by the highly regarded Sacred Bones Records, and the album comes with the too-cool-for-school stamp of approval of director Jim Jarmusch. On the other hand, the album has a theatrical concept, and the cover sees Jones lounging half-naked made up to look like Louis XIV. Plus, it has a 65-minute running time. All things that scream pretentious, self-indulgent actorly side-project ahead.
Once you get into the album, the musical signs are similarly mixed. The opener Flag Day/The Mother Stone is flat out. It starts out like the soundtrack to a demented circus before segueing into some Brian Jonestown Massacre-esque garage rock before laying on some latter-day Beatles stylings (Jones says The White Album was a significant influence). Even at seven and a half minutes, the track does not outstay its welcome. Unlike the next track, You’re So Wonderful, which wanders on over its eight long minutes. And whereas the opener neatly weaves the Beatles influences this track lays it on with a trowel.
It turns out most of the album is like this. For every highlight, there is a lowlight or two. For every track that playfully nods to influences (be it the aforementioned or Syd Barrett or Frank Zappa), there is a track that seems bogged down by them. For each time Jones’s hyperactive genre and tempo-hopping really sings there are a bunch of others where it seems messy and confused.
Curiously while you may assume the longer tracks would prove to be the most patience-testing, it is actually shorter tracks that prove to be some of the weakest. For example, Lullabbey or No Where’s Where Nothing Died. Both are sub-three minutes, and both seem like they are merely filling space. Also, his baby-voiced vocals on the former and his vocal squalling on the latter prove to be more than a little grating.
On the other hand, a shorter effort that does work is All I Am In You/The Big Worm. Not only that, but it is the most surprisingly focused and cohesive track on display here being a straightforward garage rock stomper. And frankly all the better for it.
Ultimately, The Mother Stone is a somewhat frustrating listen. There is a real delight to be had here when Jones’s psychedelic noodlings fall into place, particularly on the aforementioned opener or the rollicking Licking The Days. And clearly, Jones is a talented musician. However, too often, it merely feels ramshackle and scattershot. In the end, the shadow of The White Album looms a little too large over this effort.