Review Summary: VII: It’s the first time I can say, without any irony or in-jokes, that Primus sucks.
Primus’ fifth studio album The Brown Album
is one of creator disapproval. It’s become a joke between the band’s members, as they actively dismiss it at live shows, knowing that it’s a terrible record and very rarely playing songs from it. But that’s kind of hard to believe, considering how phenomenal their past works were. Sure, Tales From the Punchbowl
was flawed, but you could clearly tell that Primus were going to continue their odyssey of weirdness. But the band's fifth LP also marks the first studio album from the band without drummer Tim “Herb” Alexander, so the band carries some skepticism. With newcomer Bryan “Brain” Mantia running the kit, The Brown Album
sounds different from anything else Primus has created, and that’s not a good thing whatsoever.
The Brown Album
marks, once again, a departure from the last album’s sound. Tales From the Punchbowl
was Primus getting back to their jam roots, with longer songs and less accessible structures. It's a much more condensed record. Only seven of the fifteen tracks crack the four-minute mark and the hooks are a bit more apparent than the songs on Tales From the Punchbowl
. The tracks try to lay off the proggy jams and keep the more concrete elements on display. There are some detours, like the waving “Arnie”, which keep the past in mind, but Primus try not to let their experimentalism and eagerness get the better of them on The Brown Album
But despite this shift in sound, The Brown Album
does something that no other Primus album has been able to achieve: it sounds boring. Really boring. This is an album that only has a handful of memorable tracks, while the rest lack any sort of creative or virtuoso spark. The best moments on the record are the brief glimpses into fever dream alt-prog like “Bob’s Party Time Lounge” or the fan favorite “Over the Falls.” But the rest of the tracks sound completely removed from Primus’ past: “Kalamazoo” tries (and fails) to sound like a more upbeat version of something from Pork Soda, while “Restin’ Bones”, despite its catchy chorus, only gets duller throughout its four-and-a-half minute length. Les Claypool manages to get his trademark repertoire of bass sounds out without much problem, but aside from the thump of “Shake Hands With Beef” or the funk of “Arnie”, the bass sounds more novelty than essential. It’s criminally underutilized.
The album is also hurt by a production that irons out the wrinkles of Primus. Instead of providing a cleaner example of their raw energy, The Brown Album
has tracks that sound obnoxiously scripted. Even in the studio, Primus have been able to make their music sound edgy and loose. “Tommy the Cat” from Sailing the Seas of Cheese
and “Welcome to This World” from Pork Soda
, for all their clean, stylized production, still sounded like Primus dirtying up the stage. They were open-ended in just the right ways. The unoriginality is only worsened by how devoid of energy the album is. “Fisticuffs” and “Camelback Cinema” are huge offenders, with boring and flat choruses without any musicianship left-turns to speak of. Mantia’s drumming sounds muffled and dull, a far cry from the nimble prog of Tim Alexander, especially on tracks like “Hats Off.” Larry LaLonde manages to keep his virtuosity on display better (especially on tracks like “Golden Boy”), but compared to any track on their past records, his talents are wasted on compositions that don’t show much at all.
There’s a reason that the members of Primus take shots at The Brown Album
during their live shows these days: there’s really nothing notable about it. The songs sound subdued, like the band is purposely holding themselves back. Aside from a few gems like “Bob’s Party Time Lounge”, there’s nothing on this album that suggests either a new or old Primus. It’s painful to hear an album that’s so dull and uninteresting from a band that’s done nothing but challenge the status quo throughout their career. The Brown Album
is easily one of Primus’ worst endeavors, a stagnant record without any of the passion and courageous soul the band has earned since Day 1. It’s the first time I can say, without any irony or in-jokes, that Primus sucks.