22
Sep
11

Album Review: Primus – Green Naugahyde

This is not your father’s Primus. Your father’s Primus was an oddball funk-metal band with head-banging riffs and rump-shaking grooves. Today’s Primus is a bit mellower, more skewed toward a zany jazz-fusion sound, but still retains their musical complexity and irreverence. After an 11-year hiatus from studio recordings, the San Francisco Bay-area band has just released Green Naugahyde, with Larry LaLonde on guitar as always, Jay Lane – the original Primus drummer – back in the band, and the band’s leader and arguably the best bass player around, Les Claypool.
Claypool definitely leads the charge on this new album, writing all the lyrics and his voice doing more “talk-singing” than actual singing, with the vocals often sent through a sound effects box of some sort. The bass grooves are undeniably Claypool – he uses a lot of effects for that as well, but his funk-jazz sound is unmistakable. The album starts off with a little prelude that segues into “Hennepin Crawler,” a funky rock tune that lets you know that Primus is back. While Claypool has taken his signature sound and applied it to his other projects (Flying Frog Brigade, Colonel Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains, solo albums, Oysterhead), there is no mistaking the sound of this trio. LaLonde’s guitar sound is instantly recognizable, though he doesn’t get a lot of chances to really wail away on this album. “Last Salmon Man” continues Claypool’s tome of fishing-themed songs, this one commenting on the diverting of water from northern California to other parts of the state. Claypool’s lyrics, while often silly and bizarre, can sometimes be politically poignant, as in “Eternal Consumption Engine,” a weird Willy Wonka-esque tune about our society’s never-ending thirst for more and more stuff. Primus’ rock sound returns in “Tragedy’s a’ Comin’,” with Claypool slapping his bass with funk ferocity. The other album highlights include the jaunty little ditty “Lee Van Cleef,” referencing the actor from old westerns like “High Noon” and “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”; “Moron TV” is a fairly benign attack on the current state of television programming – Claypool really wasn’t going out on a limb here. “HOINFODAMAN” showcases Claypool’s affection for Frank Zappa, both musically and politically. Claypool has always shied away from mainstream pop culture trappings, and the evil corporate music machine, much like Zappa. “HOINFODAMAN” is an indictment of artists who sell out for fame and fortune – Frank would approve. The band saved the best for last on the album with a tune called “Extinction Burst.” This song more than any of the others has more layers and explores some longer grooves.
Overall, I was a bit disappointed with Green Naugahyde. Following Primus’ last release, an EP entitled “Animals Should Not Try to Act like People,” and the subsequent tour, it seemed that the band was incorporating a more “jam band” style, in that they would stretch out their funky grooves and wailing guitar work, rather than keeping the songs nice and short. But this new album seems very constrictive – it almost feels like the band is playing inside a tiny box and has no room to really break out into some great song space. Their sound has always been completely unique, creative, and truly “alternative.” But this album pales in comparison to most of their other recordings; I did not expect the metal-driven sound of the “Frizzle Fry” album, or the hardcore funk of “Tales from the Punchbowl,” but taken as a whole, the album is pretty mundane for Primus. LaLonde rarely gets a chance to really let loose and shred some solos, and Lane’s drumming, while extremely well-suited for the album’s sound, seems tempered and delicate, with none of the explosiveness from the band’s earlier efforts.
I’m still looking forward to their upcoming live show, as I’m sure they will take that opportunity to breathe some new life into these songs, along with playing a lot of the old stuff (they’re doing two full sets of music). Perhaps, like most jam bands, Primus is becoming a band where the studio albums are of minimal importance, and the emphasis will be on touring and putting on a stellar live show. We shall see.
As I mentioned, the sound of Green Naugahyde is unmistakably Primus, and that’s still a good thing.
Green Naugahyde gets 3 out of 5 stars!

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