Review Summary: II: With Frizzle Fry, Primus don't usurp any thrones from their rock and metal peers, instead deciding to build their own, better one.
With their debut record, the live album Suck on This
, Les Claypool, Larry LaLonde and Tim Alexander brought a sound that no one had heard before in rock or metal. Their outfit Primus was the kind of group that openly ousted the status quo of their generation’s music scene, a time where being fast, intense and aggressive was the way to be. Behind the droning grunge of Seattle and the ripping speed metal of SoCal, Primus were closely examining the obscure texts of prog rock like Rush, while not being afraid to steal glances at the rising thrashers like Metallica and Slayer. Suck on This
was the loosest that Primus ever was, so their first full LP was their chance to polish up their distinctive, instantly identifiable sound. With Frizzle Fry
, Primus became Primus.
With their insatiable appetite to weird out critics and radio listeners alike, Primus produced an LP without a trace of accommodation, a loud, heavy announcement of a band who were set to light every expectation ablaze in a twisting pyre. Frizzle Fry
was defiant; the laws of tradition be damned.
Les Claypool’s skills on the bass are impossible to compare to anything else in rock, metal or whatever genre you feel. Though he takes much of his influence from Rush’s Geddy Lee, Claypool’s bass skills don’t sound much like Lee’s at all. With a background in thrash metal along with jazzy prog, Claypool introduces a purely unique concoction of moods, one that’s funky and heavy at the same time. His rhythms are loose, but the tones frequently produce a metallic twang. They’re abrasive and rough, but they possess a wavy and flowing groove, as heard in opener “To Defy the Laws of Tradition” and the jumpy “Pudding Time.” Claypool’s vocals continue to produce bizarre lyrics and sounds, but frequently shift in tone and tempo. His snarling in “Mr. Knowitall” contrasts the higher-pitched calls in “Frizzle Fry”, while he nasally story-tells in the fan favorite, “John the Fisherman.” Claypool routinely adapts his vocals to the very different songs on Frizzle Fry
, but never sheds the skin of his bizarre and quirky sense of style and humor. Frizzle Fry
is weird from start to finish; Claypool just approaches that weirdness from different angles.
Guitarist Larry “Ler” LaLonde, a Joe Satriani student, is a fluid axeman whose solos echo his love of prog rock and thrash metal. While Frizzle Fry
isn’t the best example of LaLonde’s more iconic solos (many of those appear on their sophomore record, Sailing the Seas of Cheese
), he’s clearly a virtuoso musician, one who routinely demonstrates a sense of adaption to the different songs. While he performs heavy, less erratic riffs in songs like “Too Many Puppies”, LaLonde is at his best when he’s acting just as uncomfortably as Claypool; keeping a single tone, tempo or mood is not something that this band is content with. Some songs like “Harold of the Rocks” and the title track have so many changes in tempo and style, but LaLonde still is able to give each passage a revving guitar performance. This sense of fluid precision is even more impressive from drummer Tim “Herb” Alexander, whose mastery of jazz and progressive rock-inspired drumming reach marathon levels of rhythmic intricacy in “Frizzle Fry” and “Spegetti Western.” Alexander frequently performs with a commanding sense of pacing and motion, nailing fills with pitch-perfect precision, but never locking himself up into a single mood, tempo or sound.
While 1993’s Pork Soda
is definitely the band’s darkest record, their debut is easily their heaviest. Some of the most intense metal songs they’ve written appear on Frizzle Fry
. “Too Many Puppies”, the first Primus song Claypool ever wrote, tackles the subject of young soldiers at war with a now-iconic bass line from Claypool and chugging guitar rhythms from LaLonde. One of the best songs on the album (and in Primus’ entire discography) is “The Toys Go Winding Down,” which uses a rubbery bass rhythm and a surprisingly eerie use of LaLonde’s guitars and Alexander’s tinging cymbals, before slowly fading out and bursting back into motion near the end. The twanging bass power chords and slaps reach an amorphous high on “Frizzle Fry”, with a slower, almost Black Sabbath-esque tempo. Even the first single “John the Fisherman” is bathed in metal sensibilities, opening with a distorted, grinding bass riff before picking up the pace into a groovier, but still tribally rhythmic pace. While it might not please those who grew up on thrash metal due to Claypool’s wonky vocals or the album’s focus on virtuosity over speed, this is a Primus album with teeth. Sharp, dirty teeth.
Out of all of Primus’ recordings, Frizzle Fry
is the one that sounds the most distinctive. It holds a sound that Primus never really went back to down the line. Few songs in the band’s discography approached the same combination of heaviness and fluidity that appears here. They moved into radio-friendliness on Sailing the Seas of Cheese
, filthy darkness in Pork Soda
, and whirling jazziness further onward, but it’s odd that the clanging bass rhythms, grimy and abrasive guitars, and nimble drum rhythms never returned in the same way as they do in Frizzle Fry
. Still, this isn’t the perfect Primus album. The songwriting in recordings like “Mr. Knowitall” and “Harold of the Rocks” aren’t the most impressive examples of the band’s skills in writing truly bizarre songs, while the more experimental and jammy sessions like the extremely loose “Spegetti Western” do have traces of filler tone in their bones.
fixes many of the problems with the group’s debut Suck on This
, improving the flimsier elements with a stronger production and some amazing new songs too. This is still a loose album, but it doesn’t sound nearly as messy in its execution as Suck on This
did. The trio’s musicianship is much more apparent and the new songs like “To Defy the Laws of Tradition”, “Too Many Puppies” and “The Toys Go Winding Down” are absolutely incredible. Though the album does have weaker moments (many of which are related to songwriting, not performance), Frizzle Fry
is a great way for Claypool, LaLonde and Alexander to show that alternative rock was going to be something worth keeping an eye on in the coming years. Though no other albums in the Primus discography sounded quite like Frizzle Fry
, it remains a fantastic debut LP, one ruthlessly experimental enough for Primus to weird everyone out while also getting them to bang their heads.