“To defy the laws of tradition/is a crusade only of the brave…”
While the song is not about them, I’m hard-pressed to think of a lyric by which a band better captures their essence. Primus is led by singer/bassist/jester Les Claypool, whose unique style of playing, which incorporates tapping, strumming, and slapping, is matched in originality by the stories he tells. Guitarist Larry LaLonde, former student of Joe Satriani, creates many amazing riffs that would surely get more notice if they weren’t within Primus’ eclectic oeuvre. Because Claypool plays his bass like a lead instrument, it sounds at times as if he and LaLonde are playing different songs; however they are anchored by the brilliant drum work of Tim “Herb” Alexander.
Primus defies description because they embrace so much. They came out of the late ‘80s Bay Area thrash metal scene, where they stood out because of Claypool’s funky bass and their idiosyncratic songs, which bring to mind Frank Zappa. They were grouped into a funk/alternative/metal category along with The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Faith No More. As every rock trio must, they acknowledge the influence of Rush. There is a progressive rock feel to some of their longer pieces, but I wouldn’t discount punk and jazz elements cropping up at different times. Claypool might have described it best in a 1991 Kerrang article when he called it psychedelic polka. If one band were worthy of its own genre, it would be Primus.
I first became aware of Primus when I saw them open for Jane’s Addiction and The Pixies in December 1990 at the Hollywood Palladium before the release of their breakout album, Sailing the Seas of Cheese. They were a talented bunch and I was very impressed with their recreation of Pink Floyd’s “In The Flesh?”, including the plane crash. The following summer they stole the show opening up for the Anthrax/Public Enemy tour.
They Can’t All Be Zingers, a best-of compilation, begins with “To Defy The Laws Of Tradition” from their first studio effort, 1990’s Frizzle Fry. It opens with a needle being dropped, which may need to be explained to iPod users, and a tease of Rush’s “YYZ” on the cymbals before segueing into the song. One great thing about Primus is you don't know where they are going from song to song or even within one.
“Jerry Was A Race Car Driver” was my first introduction to the band and is still my favorite song by them. It’s infectious and when they hit that bridge, make sure your seatbelt is on because they pound you with an irresistible percussive crunch that will get any head banging along. An all-time classic.
Primus tells wonderfully weird tales devoted to an unusual cast of characters. Men named Mud and “Mr. Krinkle,” and “John The Fisherman” have their peculiar stories presented as does a woman named Wynona, who owns a big brown beaver. And that’s not the only animal appearing as “Tommy The Cat” brags about a “vivacious feline” who wanted him. He is voiced by Tom Waits, who also sings on “Coattails of a Dead Man”
But it’s not all silliness as greater ideas lay beneath the surface of these musical short stories. “Too Many Puppies” deals with soldiers fighting in the Middle East, “Coattails…” presents a story about Courtney Love or someone just like her, and “Those Damned Blue-Collared Tweekers” details either an ignored or an accepted use of amphetamines.
The album makes available a previously unreleased, extended version of “Shake Hands With Beef,” as well as “Mary The Ice Cube” from the 2003 DVD+EP Animals Should Not Try To Act Like People, which concludes this album. The last line heard is “Doesn't nothing ever last forever?” The answer is obviously “no,” so enjoy the band while you can.
Primus is touring through November and December.