ATO Records; Sept. 13, 2011
Alt-rock trio Primus returns with its first studio effort since 1999's Antipop, featuring original drummer Jay Lane — who departed in 1988 — back alongside bassist/singer Les Claypool and guitarist Larry LaLonde.
The 13-track album opens with a throwaway intro before kicking into "Hennepin Crawler," a funky-but-repetitive song spotlighted with a few solos and Claypool's talk-sing style.
"Last Salmon Man" gives the impression that it's another in the long line of "Fisherman's Chronicles" from albums past with its fishing/ocean theme. The middle breaks down into a Zappa-esque veil of falsetto and funk before sliding back into the initial groove. The song provides a six-minute journey, as most in the "Chronicles" have done, carrying the listener along in the storytelling through lyrics and musicianship.
Things get tribal with "Eternal Combustion Engine" before a more circus-like groove from Claypool bounces over the rhythm. Claypool's screened vocals repeatedly note, "I like it, I really really like it," adding to the Vaudevillian sideshow style.
Fans at the band's Fillmore concert in June heard a handful of these tunes already, but "Tragedy's A'Comin" and "Jilly's on Smack" sound better on the album. Live, the songs were swallowed up by the music, leaving the lyrics muddied. "Jilly" gets an extended intro before LaLonde's racing riff ignites the song, and Claypool comes in with with a bowed stand-up bass.
Claypool soaks his bass in effects throughout the album, giving more electronic and spacey signatures instead of simply showing off his speed or the technicality of the riffs. His lyrics are the typical storytelling style expected, though more often he speaks them than sings. The main complaint here isn't the lack of vocal range — that's never expected from Claypool, though he has been known to hit some high notes — it's the lack of lyrical content where most lines are simply repeated throughout the song. However, his snarky and humorous side comes through on "Moron TV" and "HOINFODAMAN."
Overall, the album is musically playful; Claypool's voice merely lie on top of the riffs, beats and grooves instead of becoming an instrument of its own as it has done in the past. While previous albums laid groundwork for memorable phrases and lyrics such as those found in "Too Many Puppies," "Mr. Krinkle," or "Tommy the Cat," it's difficult to walk away from this one with much more than some foot-tapping twitches and interchangeable grooves bouncing around your head.