I once had a long argument with a guy about great bass players. The dispute arose from the fact that I said I thought Les Claypool was a genius, but that I didn’t actually like all of Primus’ stuff. This sparked the retort ‘How can he be so good if you don’t even like his stuff?!’. What should have sparked a lively debate about the merits of creativity actually just digressed into a petty squabble but the basis for the discussion was a sound one.
Fast forward some 15 years and I am once more faced with a new Primus album. Coming some 11 years after their last offering and produced with drummer Jay Lane who has not graced a Primus record since the early demo days , ‘Green Naugahyde’ will once more test the boundaries between unparalleled experimentation and madness.
Probably best known to those outside the devoted as ‘that band what done the South Park theme’ Primus, led by the irrepressible Les Claypool inhabit a world where the music rule book has long since been lost in the post. Anything is possible, and if not possible, they’ll still give it a go.
How to describe Les’ bass playing to the newcomer…. Imagine if Flea sustained a head injury and replaced the strings on his bass with large wet elastic bands and then beat you round the ears with it. You are getting close.
But despite the 4 string gymnastics both Jay and guitarist Larry LaRonde still manage to make their presence felt, the drumming is sharp and tight, whilst the guitar often competes with Claypool for invention. In lesser hands this would just equate to some dreadful prog-rock chin stroking, but Primus remember to never push innovation further than the tune allows.
‘Hennepin Crawler’ is a prime (sorry) of this, whilst Les’ extraordinary bass line forms the basis of the track, the small space left is subtlety filled with some inventive guitar and some frankly awesome drumming, meaning the bass never becomes the only focus and the song has the magic effect of sounding airtight and on the verge of collapse all at once.
Sounding like System Of A Down covering the South Park Theme, ‘’Eternal Consumption Engine’ tackles another of Claypool’s pet peeves, over commercialisation and the loss of home-grown industry. ‘Here in the USA, we sure do like to spend our pay’ gets straight to the point, ‘nowadays everything’s made in China’ hammers it home.
The trio of tracks occupying the middle of the album are the pinnacle of the proceedings; they range from the sublime to the ridiculous and shift the tone of the album from downbeat darkness to whimsical.
Written about a friend who died from Heroin, ‘Jilly’s On Smack’ is heartfelt ala Primus, not so much a ballad as an unsettling, slightly eerie track with the haunting ‘Jilly’s on smack, and she won’t be comin’ back, no she won’t be comin’ back for the holidays’ repeated throughout. Troubling, emotional and far from your usual saccharine laced odes peddled by the mainstream. But in true Primus fashion, rather than build on these feelings it is followed by the insane aural fluff of ‘Lee Van Cleef’, a tribute to Clint Eastwood’s frequent silver screen partner.
Completing the threesome, ‘Moron TV’ is almost, and I stress almost, a straight up rock song. Straight up via The Twilight Zone that is and is a side swipe at Reality TV and the low benchmark needed to achieve ‘celebrity’ status these days, something that clearly irks Mr Claypool.
There are plenty of nods to the bands own back catalogue but it is delivered with a renewed freshness, something that was lacking slightly from 1999’s ‘Antipop’ that suffered in places from the input of a few too many outside sources. ‘Green Naugahyde’ manages to be both true to the Primus sound whilst also expanding to have a broader appeal than previous outings. So to complete my 15 year old argument, I really like this album; can I say Les Claypool is phenomenal bassist now please?
Check out the Primus website for more info HERE.