Primus
Band Rating: 3

  • Suck On This
  • Frizzle Fry
  • Sailing The Seas Of Cheese
  • Miscellaneous Debris
  • Pork Soda
  • Tales From The Punchbowl
  • Brown Album
  • Rhinoplasty
  • Antipop
  • Animals Should Not Try To Act Like People

    Suck On This (1990)
    Page Rating: 9
    Overall Rating: 12

    Like the infamous alternative rock act Jane's Addiction, the eccentric funk metal outfit Primus's debut is a live album; most likely a cost-cutting measure for an obscure fledgling rock group rather than some kind of attention-getting stunt, Suck On This is compiled from two performances, though it feels like one cohesive concert.

    A move like this is inexcusable unless the band features the instrumental chops to pull it off; fortunately Primus are an incredible live band, and this album is a true testament to that fact. The playing is tight, precise and focused, plagued by none of the typical live looseness or sloppiness endemic to concert recordings. The instrumentation is consummately professional, and one would be hard pressed to find a single flaw or mistake amidst the chaotic jams.

    The album is predominantly groove based; this isn't to say that it's utterly devoid of memorable melodies, as there certainly are some to be found, primarily manifesting themselves in the forms of clever riffs and bass-lines or catchy vocal hooks; but the emphasis is very much on the infectious grooves, and ultimately these are what sustain the album, with little actually retained in its aftermath. This is exacerbated by Primus's tragic flaw, a terminal uniformity to their sound; each song will invariably blend together, leaving a tangled mass of overlapping tracks in your mind with but a modicum of a chance of differentiating between them in retrospect.

    This may sound like a critical problem, but the fact is that while the album's on it's an incredibly unique and enjoyable listen; the grooves are irresistible, and it's difficult not to become lost in them. The sound they establish, if a tad uniform, is still highly idiosyncratic and distinctive, and their metal roots are quite apparent as nearly all of the songs rock quite heavily.

    The main attraction is certainly Les Claypool's bass; while the other musicians are quite professional, it's Claypool who makes truly innovative use of his instrument, concocting an endless procession of imaginative bass-lines and producing sounds from his instrument that one would have previously thought impossible. Claypool's a virtuoso in the best sense; he's not content merely to be technically immaculate in accepted terms, but rather strives to go further and create his own style.

    The album starts with a quote from YYZ, possibly to frighten the audience into believing they accidentally stumbled into a Rush concert. From there it offers track after track that are universally consistent, for better or for worse. For better because they're all well written, well performed and highly enjoyable, and for worse because, as stated before, the sound isn't varied nearly enough.

    But as a groove album it's nearly unbeatable, and the songs are hardly identical; close inspection reveals that they each have their own charms, with clever hooks and ideas to distinguish themselves, even if they're hard to recollect afterwards. While the album's on it's exceptionally enjoyable, showing that Primus had a unique and excellent sound worked out right from the beginning.

    Sadly enough, however, the album's nearly obsolete; on subsequent albums Primus scavenged nearly every track from SOT and adapted them into the studio environment, leaving just enough exclusive to the debut so that hardcore fans would feel compelled to buy it as well. The exclusive tracks are quite strong but it's difficult to recommend an album with quite this much overlap with their studio work; the performances are quite strong, but they're not altogether dissimilar to the studio renditions; Primus's playing is unimpeachable in any context, and they're also quite accomplished at utilizing studio trickery to augment their tracks.

    Taken on its own, SOT is an extremely strong album and an exceptionally enjoyable listen, but the subsequent recurrence of the bulk of its tracks on studio releases makes it unnecessary for all but the most obsessive Primus fans. Unlike most hardcore-fan-only albums SOT is both accessible and enjoyable for any listener, but casual fans should still probably pass on this one and treat Frizzle Fry as the debut like most critics are apt to do.


    Frizzle Fry (1990)
    Page Rating: 9
    Overall Rating: 12

    Often mistaken for Primus's debut, Frizzle Fry would work far better were this actually the case; the less pleasing reality is that it's a regurgitation of most of the highlights of SOT, adding but five fully fleshed out new tracks and a few tossed off novelties that function as amusing segues and digressions from the mastadonic grooves that dominate the album.

    The album can certainly be taken to task for its dearth of significant new material, and this makes for an eminently compelling indictment of the LP, but in the end whatever quarrels one has with the derivation of the majority of its tracks doesn't change the fact that the album is an incredible listen, yet another perfect expression of the essence of a supremely bizarre and supremely talented band.

    The energy of the overlapping tracks is in no way diluted by the transition to the studio; the performances on the studio versions are just as tight and fierce, never sounding too slick or mechanical. This isn't to say they're necessarily better than the originals, but they're hardly butcheries or bastardizations.

    The novelty tracks are essentially padding, but they never mar the proceedings; on the contrary, they're effective breathers after the band's typical relentless jamming. They also help avert the group's worst flaw, a tendency to make the sound too uniform and monotonous; in spite of their brevity these tracks help infuse at least a modicum of diversity into the album.

    The main attractions, of course, are the new tracks, which certainly don't disappoint. They offer everything that one could want from a Primus track: infectious grooves, catchy and creative melodies with enormous rocking power and eccentric, offbeat humor. As is inevitably the case the songs aren't that memorable and are apt to blend together in one's mind, but that doesn't change how enjoyable they are while they're on.

    It also isn't meant to imply that the songs are nothing more than tossed off jams with surreal lyrics hastily grafted to them. On the contrary, the songs betray a meticulous level of craftsmanship, boasting clever riffs, exciting instrumental breaks and untrivial vocal hooks. By any standard they're highly well written works, with a truly deceptive level of depth to them.

    But, despite these accolades, the songs still fail to stick in one's mind, with only a few random soundbites retained (a clever riff, a memorable chorus, etc.). This is a pity, as Primus are a truly talented group, and this flaw prevents them from reaching the next level.

    Were the sound more diverse and the tone more varied this failing could perhaps be dispelled, but a move like that would likely induce more problems; one of Primus's greatest strengths is that they truly plunge you into another world with their otherworldly sound, and this effect is compounded by the consistency in their playing. Whether it would be worth compromising this aspect of their sound is a difficult question; similarly, it's difficult for any group that's stumbled upon a unique and successful formula to extricate themselves from the rut that they'll inevitably fall into.

    At any rate this is a very good album, falling short of greatness due to the flaws inherent to the band's identity. While it's on it's a showcase of everything that makes the band special, but it lacks the lasting power that defines a truly great experience.


    Sailing The Seas Of Cheese (1991)
    Page Rating: 10
    Overall Rating: 13

    While the previous two Primus albums offered unimpeachable sonic experiences, they were very much fleeting pleasures, transitory enjoyment with no chance of being assimilated into any kind of permanent mental jukebox.

    Sailing The Seas Of Cheese is the closest Primus came to overcoming this handicap and transcending the limitations that had impeded them in the past. The tracks feel less like extended jams and more like actual rock songs, focused and structurally coherent entities that don't always feel like they're on the verge on degenerating into utter chaos.

    That's not to say that Primus sold out and became 'normal,' they merely translated their highly unique sound into a more accessible context. The album is just as strange (if not stranger) than ever, featuring deranged humor, basswork that defies rational description and a ubiquitous discordant tinge that somehow never mars the enjoyability of the songs.

    The songs, as always, adhere to roughly the same formula, being driven by innovative, catchy and sometimes vaguely disturbing basslines; but, as these are even more creative, distinctive and memorable than usual and the quality of the vocal hooks and melodies has progressed greatly all these elements are integrated into a far more coherent and focused structure and the group endeavor to engender at least a modicum of diversity into the proceedings, if only through rudimentary tricks like alternating the songs' tempos, the individual tracks stand out far more than usual, and won't fade away the moment the CD is over.

    Everything about the album bespeaks its more song-oriented approach. The vocals, usually used as interjections or unrelated dialogues, are actually, by and large, matched to the music, an important facet of the melodies and sound. The jams actually feel like extensions of the songs; in the past, all too often the songs would feel like rough foundations for a procession of ostensibly unrelated, or at best loosely related, jams.

    This focus on songs reinforces what was evident from the start; the members of Primus are immensely talented songwriters. But where their first two albums were, while highly enjoyable, ultimately frustrating experiences, StSoC translates their songwriting talent into a more effective medium, adding accessibility without compromising the band's unique vision.


    Miscellaneous Debris (1992)
    Page Rating: 5
    Overall Rating: 8

    If one were to apply the usual criteria for assessing cover sets to this EP then it likely wouldn't fare that well; Primus don't really make the songs their own on any but the most superficial levels, they certainly don't improve on the originals and by and large they don't even preserve the essence of most of the songs they perform.

    Yet, in spite of this the EP is highly enjoyable, and for two primary reasons: Primus are a great band and they've selected an incredible group of songs to cover. Thus the performances are very tight and entertaining even when they're flawed, and the quality of the source material always makes the EP engaging.

    There are some rather prominent, almost insurmountable liabilities: Claypool's voice is only compatible with Primus material, and it's arguable if it's even compatible with that; the Primus sound isn't conducive to recreations of songs of this nature, yet by and large they go for faithful renditions rather than dramatic reinventions; and, in the end, they add very little to the originals, amounting to little more than an entertaining diversion for fans of both Primus and the groups covered (or for introducing Primus fans to said groups, which isn't recommended as the originals are uniformly vastly superior and should be heard first).

    While all the covers are enjoyable, they're likewise all flawed, to varying degrees. Intruder is a particularly egregious example of a failed experiment, as the song loses the subtle, intelligent menace that made it a classic in the first place, and Claypool's voice is a very poor substitute for Gabriel's in any context but especially this one.

    What the EP proves is that songs of this nature can be reproduced using Primus style instrumentation and still retain much of their intrinsic merit and make for a good listen; while it proves this successfully, it begs the question why it needed to be proven at all, and what precisely this revelation adds to the legacies of Primus, Peter Gabriel, XTC, the Residents, the Meters or Pink Floyd.

    This EP, while enjoyable, isn't essential by any standards. It can't compare to peak Primus material, and it can't compare with the source materials. It may be enjoyably surreal to hear Primus deconstructing Making Plans For Nigel, but that betrays the ultimate extent of the album's appeal: as a novelty. The performances are tight and the material is both eclectic and strong, but that doesn't change the fact that, at heart, this is a well made novelty.


    Pork Soda (1993)
    Page Rating: 8
    Overall Rating: 11

    It goes without saying that a double album by Primus would be a chaotic mess, ergo the true question is if it's a chaotic mess in the bad way or the good way. The answer lies somewhere in between, making PS a consummately frustrating experience, showcasing both the best and worst the band has to offer.

    The tracks that can be classified as actual songs in the traditional sense are uniformly strong, albeit overextended. The problem lies with the remainder of the album, filled with extraneous novelties (like Wounded Knee and Hail Santa) and self-indulgent jams (like Hamburger Train, which feels like the group's Interstellar Overdrive only devoid of the creativity and cleverness of the original).

    The album, needless to say, once more revolves around Claypool's creative bass work, which works when it's applied to an actual song but fares less well in the context of meandering, masturbatory experimental workouts. The songwriting peak attained in StSoC hasn't dissipated, leading to a number of classic tracks like Bob and Welcome To This World, but for every highlight there's a pointless throwaway like the title track to mar one's impression of the album.

    In the end there's certainly enough strong material to outweigh the frustrating filler, and even said filler is generally inoffensive; the frustration is ultimately derived from the fact that, were this a single album with the lesser tracks excised it would doubtless rank amongst the band's best work. As it stands, PS is still a highly enjoyable listen, and evidence that their songwriting skills were continuing to evolve; unfortunately, it's also evidence that the band's penchant for excess was also in full blossom.


    Tales From The Punchbowl (1995)
    Page Rating: 9
    Overall Rating: 12

    Given that the band's chief liability is a stylistic uniformity that pervades all their work, the criteria for assessing an album is less what new elements are introduced and more how well they work within the confines of their static formula.

    In this regard TftP surpasses its predecessor, with a greater focus on actual songs and only a modicum of their usual experimental jokes. While their offbeat sensibility is certainly left intact, their humor primarily manifests itself through the medium of conventional (by the group's standards) songs rather than prolonged segues devoid of any tangible melody or purpose.

    While Wynona's Big Brown Beaver overshadows many of the other tracks (not because it's superior to them, simply because it managed to become the group's biggest hit), there are quite a few classics on here, particularly Professor Nutbutter's House Of Treats with its parade of clever bass melodies. Other highlights include the dirge-like Southbound Pachyderm which stands out with its moody slow tempo and bleakly ominous sound.

    As tends to be the case many of the other tracks blend together, but while they're on they remain quite consistently enjoyable. While the peaks are no better than on PS there's less clear cut filler to dilute the strength of the band's songwriting. The album religiously adheres to the group's formula, but as long as the group is capable of penning material of the caliber the formula will continue to work.


    Brown Album (1997)
    Page Rating: 7
    Overall Rating: 10

    Yet another rehash, only largely bereft of the strong songwriting that compensated for the familiarity of the last few albums. While there are still a handful of classics (like the bass-fest Shake Hands With Beef), all too often it feels like the band is merely going through the motions, and in the few instances in which they attempt to vary the sound they end up with generic hard rockers like Golden Boy that serve only to betray the group's identity without making any real steps forward.

    This isn't to say that BA is a bad album; the band's formula is still intact, and still innately engaging, for while the band's style is uniform, it's still unique in the pantheon of rock and roll acts. The majority of the tracks, while still decidedly lesser entries in the Primus catalogue, are still quite enjoyable, giving the band ample opportunities to display their instrumental chops (complete with a new drummer in tow, whose style is just a bit too close to derivative metal for comfort).

    While the quality of the songwriting has deteriorated from the peak the group had attained, it's by no means poor, merely too conspicuously recycled from their previous offerings. While obviously disappointing, this self-cannibalization is by no means egregious enough to prevent the listener from enjoying the songs; the writing is still by and large still competent, and the tracks are still animated by the classic Primus sound that invariably manages to transfigure the more pedestrian numbers into songs that one can derive at least a modicum of enjoyment from.

    While the somewhat common assertion that Primus simply remade the same album over and over again is quite hyperbolic, it's true that they ultimately relied on one vibe that they sustained through each entry in their discography. As long as strong songwriting was married to this vibe it wasn't much of a problem, but when they start relying on that vibe alone they start to merit the brand of 'novelty act' that many had all too derisively and unfairly applied to them since the group's inception.


    Rhinoplasty (1998)
    Page Rating: 5
    Overall Rating: 8

    Yet another aggressively pointless EP that manages to make exactly the same mistakes as its predecessor along with a few new ones. Once more the band unleashes an armada of hyper faithful covers that neither add anything to the originals nor equal them in quality, but this time they also include a couple of live tracks plus a remake of Too Many Puppies whose reason for existence is quite mystifying.

    In terms of the live tracks, Tommy The Cat is particularly unnecessary, as there was already a live rendition of that particular song on Suck On This which was better solely by virtue of not having a drum solo. The live Bob's Party Time Lounge is good, but it's hardly a miracle unveiling of the song's hidden potential.

    As far as the covers go, they're all reasonably well performed, but once again their purpose is a mystery to all but the band members themselves. They fail to adapt the songs to their own style leaving a parade of decent enough versions of classic songs with no reason for being.

    The originals are uniformly better, and while the EP does showcase a deceptively wide range of styles previously unexplored by the band they fail to make the styles their own, casting the group as little more than an adequate cover band.

    It's hard to recommend this EP, as the covers are best enjoyed in their original forms and the live tracks do little to differentiate themselves from their studio incarnations. Like Miscellaneous Debris it's an enjoyable enough listen, as the band chose an eclectic mix of high quality material to cover (XTC and Peter Gabriel again, along with the Police and Metallica, amongst others, this time around) and while their performances detract from the originals they hardly butcher them, making them listenable enough; still, only a die hard Primus fan need track this one down, and even in that case many should stay away as the covers scarcely sound like Primus songs, trapped in the nebulous region between their own identity and the source material.


    Antipop (1999)
    Page Rating: 6
    Overall Rating: 9

    Perhaps due to frustration with their lackluster sales Primus finally forsake the style that's carried them through the years and metamorphose into a generic metal outfit, guided by such talentless gurus as Fred Durst and Tom Morello.

    While many had been calling for a shift in the group's monotonous, static style, this was by no means the change that fans had been awaiting. Rather than adjusting their own musical identity they merely usurp the voices of others, and worse still they opt to emulate groups with only a fraction of their talent to begin with.

    While the album is still somewhat entertaining, it's more of a guilty pleasure, a shallow set that rocks well enough for its duration and provides an enjoyable enough diversion for a short time period. This mimicry, however, grows tedious soon enough, lacking any real substance or purpose, constituting an experience that's far beneath what the band is capable of.

    What Primus sorely needed was an evolution of their style, not a negation of it, and this masquerade as their lessers serves only to excise their merits rather than strengthen them. What they gain through this sacrifice is hardly enough to justify this enterprise, ultimately amounting to little more than barely adequate escapist fare.

    Even on the tracks produced by more talented artists (like Tom Waits) the album falters, as once more they opt for a role play rather than adapting their influences into their own style, repeating the critical mistake they made with the covers on their EP's. In the end, unable to make advancements with their own style the band took the easy way out and simply abandoned it, leading to this set of copycat escapades. While this makes for a decent heavy metal album it betrays what made the band unique in the first place, carving an experience far beneath what the band has to offer.


    Animals Should Not Try To Act Like People (2003)
    Page Rating: 7
    Overall Rating: 10

    After the group's brief romance with mainstream metal, they thankfully reverted to their classic sound for the group's comeback EP. Packaged with a DVD featuring the group's music videos, ASNTTALP was intended as both a way to appease their hardcore fans for their lengthy sabbatical as well as a tool for new fans to familiarize themselves with the group, and thankfully it does both jobs admirably.

    While it only features five tracks, each song is considerably extended beyond the conventional length, yet fortunately they never grow tedious. Well written and infused with the classic Primus vibe, they're more than enough to sate the appetites of fans who had gone into withdrawal over the past several years.

    Claypool's bass work has returned to the forefront where it belongs, and furthermore Tim Alexander has returned, making this the first album since TftP to feature the original lineup fully intact.

    While the brevity of the EP is certainly a handicap, it serves its designated purpose quite well and is hopefully a sign of things to come from the band. It renews one's faith that Antipop was little more than a careless misstep, and that the group still has what it takes to make this more than just another ill advised, exploitive comeback.