My 16-year-old self and I rarely agree on much anymore; that guy would eat dog biscuits on a dare, for example, whereas I tend to enjoy food that is at least marketed with human beings in mind. That said, when we do agree, we agree wholeheartedly. One of those things we agree on is the awesomeness of Primus. So, you can probably imagine the many high-fives 16-year-old me and I exchanged when I decided to feature that band on Back to the Beginning this week. Have they changed much since they released Frizzle Fry in 1990? Or has bass guitar virtuoso Les Claypool’s numerous side projects changed Primus’s sound into something else on their newest release, Green Naugahyde?
The power trio’s first studio album is the sonic equivalent of a Tourette’s-afflicted mugger jumping out of a dark alley to attack you with a rubber chicken that has a brick tied to its head. With a sound that’s as complex as that last metaphor is clumsy, Frizzle Fry assaults the listener with music that, honestly, probably confused any critic who first tried to categorize it. Claypool, drummer Tim “Herb” Alexander, and guitarist Larry LaLonde craft amazingly intricate, almost solo, lines for one another, and yet these musical ideas work amazingly well together. This is not just the bassist’s show; Claypool clearly fronts Primus in the ways that count, but the sound comes from every member of the band equally. (Music geeks might try to characterize Primus’s sound as rock music evoking a Baroque esthetic, but, while it might seem that way if you listen hard enough, most folks are just going to say either that the music is hard to listen to or frickin’ awesome.)
Lyrically, Primus desperately wants to tell you something important, but use their manic energy and quirky sound to make it more palatable. Not every song is this way, of course, (I wouldn’t call “John the Fisherman” a desperate call for us all become fishers), but the songs with serious messages get cover from delicious bass hooks that attach themselves to our brains and refuse to let go. “Mr. Knowitall,” for instance, lambastes pretension, and “Too Many Puppies” rails against the military and how they create soldiers.
If you worried that Primus would lose that essential “Primus-ness” that made them great since their last studio album in 1999, you obviously haven’t seen them on one of their many touring stints since then. In fact, you might argue that, on Green Naugahyde, they are more Primus then they have even been, as Jay Lane (the drummer that did most of the underlying work for Frizzle Fry before leaving in 1989) is now back with the band. Lane’s return and musical input, along with Claypool and LaLonde’s continued growth, combine to make a Primus sound that seems both familiar and fresh. Primus still has a lot to say, and the tracks “Jilly’s on Smack,” “Eternal Consumption Engine,” “Eyes of the Squirrel,” and “Moron TV” prove it.
Verdict: In my fairly-biased opinion, you can’t go wrong with Primus’ entire studio catalog. Seriously, why you don’t have all of their albums (if you don’t) is beyond me. However, if I had to pick between Frizzle Fry and Green Naugahyde … oh, who am I kidding? I wouldn’t. Get them both if you don’t have them.