Review Summary: Crispy on them fries please
It’s been a while since Primus put out a full studio album, but that doesn’t mean they burned out like so many other bands that were popular during the 90s. They may have taken a break in the early 2000s and took a back seat to the many side projects by bassist/vocalist Les Claypool, but they were still actively touring and put a few releases out on a more periodical basis. But that seems to have changed with the release of this studio album, the first since Antipop came out in 1999. It is also the first to feature drummer Jay Lane replacing “Herb” Alexander, though the former was actually in Primus first and ended up getting replaced by the latter during the 80s. And things only get weirder from there…
Primus is an incredibly weird band in that they have a completely distinct sound but release albums that don’t stray too far from that sound. Sure there are subtle differences between efforts and Antipop was really distinct thanks to the various collaborations involved, but there aren’t too many departures from their quirky formula. Thus, it isn’t too hard to believe that this release is somewhere between 1990’s Frizzle Fry and 1991’s Sailing The Seas of Cheese in terms of sound and probably could’ve come out between them both back in the day. It features the slightly more raw production of the former while channeling the more overt funk influences of the latter.
And with that to consider, the band members themselves are pretty much up to their usual tricks. The bass is audible and frequently leading the way with its groovy slapped melodies, guitarist “Ler” LaLonde gives the songs some heavy flourishes and solos, and the drums provide some solid beats with some particularly flashy percussion being used on “Eternal Consumption Engine.”
One thing that seems to have changed is Claypool’s vocal performance. While he still uses a lot of his signature nose yodeling, he doesn’t quite get to the passionate howls that were seen on tracks like “Too Many Puppies” and “Tommy The Cat.” Instead, his voice seems to have a slightly distorted effect placed on them though that may also just be the production at work. Either way, it fortunately doesn’t detract from the album’s style and fans are sure to find that his eccentricities are still used to great effect.
As with previous albums, the songwriting on this one is pretty strong. While the songs are generally either experimental or straightforward, they are all more or less structured around the long running bass riffs and show off some good jams. While the more experimental tracks are based on slower tempos and seem to serve as sound collages than true songs, most of them are well written and memorable. “The Eyes of the Squirrel” is a particular highlight that is made memorable by its hypnotic repetition, backwards guitar effects, and vaguely eastern aesthetics.
The more straightforward tracks do predictably win out though some of them do have a derivative feel that may annoy some listeners. “Last Salmon Man” plays out like “Here Come the Bastards” at twice the length, leading single “Tragedy’s A’Comin’” has a driving pace similar to “To Defy the Laws of Tradition,” “Lee Van Cleef” is a funky successor to “American Life,” and “Jilly’s on Smack” has a desperate feel that was last seen on Pork Soda. But one practice that thankfully hasn’t been brought back is the band’s old love for excessive interludes, for there are only two on here in the forms of the opening “Prelude to a Crawl” and the reprising “Salmon Men.” Of course, there are some shorter songs on here but they really feel like stand alone compositions rather than odd additions that were only included for the purposes of disorientation...
And like previous Primus albums, the lyrics are simultaneously surreal and sarcastic. There is the last addition to the Fisherman’s Chronicles as well as a few tales of blue-collar life on here but most of the songs deal with social commentary, popular culture, and politics. It’s not exactly new for them but it aids the album’s feel.
Primus has never exactly been a “safe” band per se. Their relative weirdness makes one wonder how they ever got mainstream success in the first place and this album isn’t too different in that regard. However, it can be said that this album is rather safe by the standards set by the band’s previous releases and could be seen as a “typical” Primus album. If this hadn’t been so well written, it would be easy to criticize due to it not taking many risks and for having some derivative songs. But instead, everything is redeemed by the fact that things are so nicely composed and delivered. It may not be a bad place to start for unfamiliar listeners though you can never go wrong with the band’s first three efforts either. Who knows, maybe we’re all just desensitized to the weirdness…
“Last Salmon Man”
“The Eyes of the Squirrel”
“Jilly’s On Smack”
Originally published at http://suite101.com