Review Summary: An exceptional album that expands Primus's sound into the realms of the epic while maintaining and reinventing their funk, comedy and progressive tendencies. Flawed only by one too many filler pieces.
Punchbowl is a superb album. It takes you on a bizzarre, darkly fascinating journey - weaving past epic, through esoteric, taking a left at goofy, on into the political, the frightening and the downright silly, and almost, almost holding its coherence to the finish.
The reverberating, thumping, distant sound of crowds and a marching band leading into track 1: Professer Nutbutter's House of Treats, establishes immediately the sheer size of the album's sound. In comparison to previous works Frizzle Fry and Sailing the Seas of Cheese, Punchbowl is far 'wider', and yes more hollow, but definitely sets itself up with a suitable aesthetic for the albums emotive epics 'Southbound Pachyderm' and 'Over the Electric Grapevine'.
As for Primus's trademark irreverance - look no further than 'Wynona's Big Brown Beaver', the band's most popular track and the bane of their existence. Yes, it's a goddamn stupid song, and yes it's almost so well known as to hardly count as Primus - but strip away these truths and you're still left with a fundamentally Primus track. It's funky, its catchiness is defined by its delivery and esotericism (not some hook), the musicianship is top-class and the bass is the lead instrument.
But is the album flawless? No. Sadly, it feels with Punchbowl, as if there weren't quite enough songs to make a full album. While certain tracks are clearly little pieces of fun (e.g Space Farm), others blur the line - with soundscapes, effects and overly frenetic musical lines forcing you to ask the question "Where're all the songs at, Les?"
But then you reach the final third, and "Grapevine" reminds you of the particular weird, dark, Cirque du Americana this album has you occupying. "De Anza Jig" reaffirms the comedy that first attracted you to the band, and you permit them more noises and silliness till the finish. After all, it is Primus.