Review Summary: Come with me and you'll be in a world of pure imagination.
If there is one thing you’ll take home from listening to a Primus album it’s the feeling of being disturbed, confused and oddly satisfied by Primus’ unique and strange sonic pallet -- matched by crazy vocals and lyrics. If there is one band out there to carry the torch from the eccentric musical style of the late Frank Zappa, it's Primus; you can always bet on being sent on a crazy journey. 2014 sees Primus in a special place, with the classic trio back in action together; Tim "Herb" Alexander got behind the kit for The Chocolate Factory & Fungi Ensemble
, marking this as the first time in nearly 20 years they've all recorded an LP together. Fans have been highly anticipating the upcoming album to see if that flare is still there after all these years.
Primus & the Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble
is, as the title suggests, based on Charley and the Chocolate Factory, but, as this is Primus, you can expect a warped version of the subject matter. From the moment the album starts, to when it finishes, you’ll come across the trademark songs found in the classic 1971 film, only with a trippy twist; thanks largely to Les’ obscure vocals and droning bass, mixed perfectly with Larry’s delay and guitar effects. The intro track, "Hello Wonkites", kicks in with the melody from "Pure Imagination" (The most commonly known song associated with Charley and the Chocolate Factory.) and slowly builds up, becoming more dark and odd, before slipping into the twisted “Candy Man”. As the song goes on you start to become more disturbed and uncomfortable -- infact, the way they've turned the classic songs on their head is nothing short of genius. Primus take some very happy children's songs and masterfully morph them into eerie, ominous beasts; they're crafted so well, its as though they were the band's songs all along. This is the recipe you'll find throughout the LP, and it is definitely one of the strongest aspects of the album.
For the most part the album is enjoyable. The downside? It never gets past that. Most of what is appealing to the average Primus fan is the crazy styles and musicianship each album has to offer; but this LP is very reserved, mainly due to its restrictions of being a parody soundtrack. So everything that you’d normally look for in a Primus record is toned down, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but with Primus & the Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble
the album suffers a little bit because of this. The album never really finds its footing, never quite kicks off. Sure, you’ll find the Frizzle Fry-esque build-ups scattered around the album (Especially in the latter half of the album.), but nothing ever stands out. You’ll still be tapping your foot to the infectious rhythms, but never quite as hard as you would with the rest of their discography; songs just fade out, rather than end with a satisfying conclusion. But, again, Primus & the Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble
's restrictions fall on being a soundtrack, so the seamless fade in and out approach to songs is nothing new for a score; and that's precisely what this album is attempting to tackle. So, with the music taking a backseat, many will focus their attention onto Les’ vocals, which just so happens to be great; using the signature twang everyone knows him for, the surprise actually comes from how well they accommodate the music. However, the singing never really ups the game to make up for the voided space the music left behind. What's worse, people who've disliked Primus in the past have always found it hard to look past Les' acquired voice, before giving the superb music on offer a chance; this time around it won’t win over haters of the band, but it’ll also struggle to please the fans, due to its minimality and lack of what makes them appealing in the first place.
What you’re left with in the end is an album that does its own thing. You can enjoy Primus & the Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble
for its goofy novelty and revel in the disturbingly funny twists and turns it lays out for you, but it's a novelty that will only last for so long. It’s not the deepest or most layered record, and for that its life expectancy is short-lived. It’s great to see the trio back at it, and they’re tight as hell on this record; Herb's drumming is great, and they all work off each other really well. But the album suffers from some stagnant songwriting that tends to repeat itself with little pay-off. It’s a fun ride, but one you'll only ride a couple of times. And ultimately, you'll be left wishing you got a little more excitement before it ended.
Worth a checking out.