After nearly ten years, the original, “classic” lineup of rock-weirdos Primus is back together for at least an EP (and tour) of five new tracks in the form of the DVD/CD combo Animals Should Not Try To Act Like People. Tim (no longer “Herb”) Alexander has rejoined to inject his much-needed jazz-inflected drumming into the increasingly stiff and dull output of Primus.
When Alexander left after the 1995 album, Tales From The Punchbowl, Praxis drummer Brain took his place but certainly couldn’t fill his shoes. While a talented skins-pounder, Brain’s style is more in the pocket, in sharp contrast to Alexander’s off-kilter jazzy colorings. Why this is important is exactly why Primus sounded so unique in the first place: Primus is a backwards band. It’s no secret that the band is centered around the uniquely unmistakeable playing of bassist Les Claypool. Claypool’s ability to both stick to the beat and play around on top of it with melodic elements forces guitarist Larry “Ler” Lalonde’s skronky guitar playing into the background, where he performs as a sort of schizophrenic rhythm section paired with the drumming. What makes this odd equation work is a drummer who plays just outside of normal – pushing and pulling, or just plain prodding at the beat with complex fills and flourishes. This kind of accompaniment keeps Claypool reacting spontaneously and keeps the music inventive and fresh. When Brain took over, the band found itself employing a very solid, heavy timekeeper – someone who, in the right band (most bands, really,) is cherished for keeping a stomping groove going. Consequently, Claypool’s playing became less inventive and less out front, quickly slipping back into the role bass is known for: keeping a deep groove going. As a result, Primus’ output began to become more and more mundane with each release. Hearing Claypool play standard bass lines, or the closest thing to “standard” Claypool could be expected to play, is not what made people love Primus.
With Brain off crafting the never-ending Guns ‘N Roses project with fellow Praxis mate Buckethead, the future of Primus is in doubt. Claypool has wisely mended whatever fences needed mending with Tim Alexander, but there’s no telling if this is a permanent thing or not. The five new tracks on this EP pick right up where Primus left off after the spotty Pork Soda and Tales From The Punchbowl. Alexander’s energetic drumming jolts new life into Claypool and Primus, propelling the majority of the five new tracks to immediate “classic” status. “The Last Superpower AKA Rapscallion” represents the old Primus taking on the Brain-era lineup, but does so in a much stronger, more convincing way than the real thing could at its peak. “Mary The Ice Cube” and “My Friend Fats” present a blending of the two versions of the band, and while not as strong as leadoff tracks “The Carpenter And The Dainty Bride” and the far too short “Pilcher’s Squad” still make for compelling, and most importantly, fun listening – something the band’s music has been lacking for quite a long time.
The EP is issued with a DVD containing all of the music videos (you know, those things MTV used to show) along with an assortment of live tracks, backstage, and making-of footage representing each album. Be forewarned – some of this footage is labelled as “Bootleg Quality” and they aren’t kidding. Also included in its entirety is the long out of print Cheesy Home Video and a formerly fan-club only video. This is an unbelievable deal – for about $10 at most retailers, you get about 3.5 hours of stuff. Even if the EP wasn’t so good, I’d still give this a big ol’ thumbs up.
(also posted at unproductivity.)