Primus

Picture of Primus

Suck on This

Primus - Suck on This ©1989 Caroline
1. John the Fisherman
2. Groundhog's Day
3. The Heckler
4. Pressman
5. Jellikit
6. Tommy the Cat
7. Pudding Time
8. Harold of the Rocks
9. Frizzle Fry

In the late 80s, Primus established themselves in the San Francisco Bay Area as a live act to be reckoned with. Despite being surrounded by the exploding thrash metal scene, Primus truly went their own way, centering on bassist/vocalist Les Claypool's formidable bass skills and strange, yet endearingly quirkly vocals. Bandmates Tim "Herb" Alexander (stolen from Arizona's Major Lingo) and Larry LaLonde (ex-Possessed) were adept as sidemen to Claypool's skillset, with Alexander in particular being a drummer who played perfectly to the complicated basslines. With their live act being such a draw around San Francisco, Primus opted to record a couple sets for their debut, rather than hole up in the studio right away. The result is Suck On This.

Although much of this material would be given the studio treatment on 1990's Frizzle Fry and the rest would reappear over the years on later studio releases or soundtracks, the live treatment on Suck On This is fresh and fun. The recording is pretty good, although LaLonde's guitar is slightly undercooked and buried in the mix. However, the interaction with the crowd, Claypool's stage chatter, and the drum sound make the album quite fun. The album includes requisite references to Bob Cock, the famous "We're Primus and we suck" catchphrase, and above all, the definitive version of "Tommy The Cat". The song would reappear with Tom Waits in tow on Sailing the Seas of Cheese and again in live form on Rhinoplasty (with Brian "Brain" Mantia playing drums by that point). But no later version will ever quite match the Suck On This one.

It could be argued that Suck On This is a bit superfluous since all the songs ultimately found their way into the studio over the years. However, there was something about Primus around '89-90 that was entirely fresh, innocent and exciting. Their cult popularity gave way to a bit more of a mainstream audience and I've always felt the weirdness of Primus felt more forced over the years. In 1989, these guys were truly bizarre and I don't think they really were conscious of the fact. That in itself made their music and songs more special. Suck On This might be less necessary than Frizzle Fry, but only slightly. It's a great debut that any Primus fan should treasure.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 05/2008

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Frizzle Fry

Primus - Frizzle Fry ©1990 Caroline
1. To Defy The Laws Of Tradition
2. Ground Hog's Day
3. Too Many Puppies
4. Mr. Knowitall
5. Frizzle Fry
6. John The Fisherman
7. You Can't Kill Michael Malloy
8. The Toys Go Winding Down
9. Pudding Time
10. Sathington Willoughby
11. Spegetti Western
12. Harold Of The Rocks
13. To Defy

Frizzle Fry was a revelation for a thrash listening teenager back in 1990. After reading a couple intriguing short interviews in magazines, I decided to give Primus a try without actually having heard a single note of their music. My mind nearly combusted with glee within the first minute of "To Defy the Laws of Tradition". Frizzle Fry became a mainstay of listening rotation my last year of high school and Primus more or less was my favorite band for the two or three years afterwards. A decade later I find myself wondering where time flies, but Frizzle Fry still retains much of the shiny trinket lure and unassuming cool weirdness that it had way back upon its release.

Frizzle Fry finds itself reprising several tunes from their 1989 independent live release, Suck on This. These songs are given a good studio treatment and a somewhat better sound, although they do not change very much in arrangement. Larry LaLonde's guitar is given more prominence than it received on Suck on This, although this is obviously bassist/vocalist Les Claypool's show all the way. In the spirit of other bass-as-a-lead-instrument oriented bands such as NoMeansNo and the Minutemen or prominent-bass bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Primus gives the instrument true spotlight appeal. In fact, it would seem the popularity Primus received with later releases would inspire many bassists around the world to adopt a style more like Claypool's. Claypool also offered some rather unique vocals. His nasaly, thin voice is actually perfect for the music of Primus. Moreover, his lyrical tales and narratives are tops. The stories of "Harold of the Rocks", "John the Fisherman" and "Ground Hog's Day" are entertaining and unique. Although Claypool often sounds a bit unsure of his voice throughout the album, it works. Much praise must also be given to drummer Tim "Herb" Alexander for perhaps being the one drummer in the world who could not only keep up with Claypool's looping, slapped and fondled bass, but actually added to the already busy rhythm section.

Perhaps it is nostalgia or a case of simply loving the first output I ever heard from the band, but Frizzle Fry still rates as my favorite Primus record. There is just something entirely fresh and honest about their sound here. Needless to say, the Primus story cannot be told if you haven't a copy of Frizzle Fry in your household. Now be a good little puppy and run out to find yourself a copy.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 10/2000

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Sailing The Seas Of Cheese

Primus - Sailing The Seas Of Cheese ©1991 Interscope
1. Seas Of Cheese
2. Here Come The Bastards
3. Sgt. Baker
4. American Life
5. Jerry Was A Race Car Driver
6. Eleven
7. Is It Luck?
8. Grandad's Little Ditty
9. Tommy The Cat
10. Sathington Waltz
11. Those Damned Blue-collar Tweekers
12. Fish On (Fisherman Chronicles, Chapter II)
13. Los Bastardos

Armed with a new high profile record contract (Primus, if I remember correctly, was Interscope's first signing) and a small, but building cult following, the Bay Area trio barged headfirst into Sailing the Seas of Cheese still retaining their early adorability while attempting to expand on their already unusual sound. As a result, the album tends to have a bit of dense edge to it that made initial listens a bit frustrating, especially after I had spent most of my senior year in high school worshipping Frizzle Fry. Generally speaking, the songs here are a bit more involved and not quite as warm and fuzzy as the band's earlier works. Nevertheless, many of the songs are incredibly timeless and more fun than poking someone's eye out with a stick. "Is It Luck?", "Those Damned Blue Collar Tweekers", "Sgt. Baker" and "Here Come the Bastards" are all amusing and musically capable. Les Claypool also proves he can take a serious, hard look on reality with the narratives in "American Life" which demonstrate the varying perspectives of those living in the United States. "Jerry Was a Race Car Driver" is another amusing narrative that seemed to propel the band into the spotlight, though not quite being the strongest thing the band ever wrote. There is also a remake of "Tommy the Cat", featuring Tom Waits grumbling through the cat's narrative parts. Unfortunately, this version is not quite as good as the original version from Suck on This. The other less than stellar song is the immensely plodding "Fish On (Fisherman Chronicles Chapter II)", which simply does nothing but make the last part of the album dreadfully boring. And unfortunately, that was a forebearer of things to come for the band. Nevertheless, Sailing the Seas of Cheese is a worthy breakthrough album for this band.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 02/2000

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Miscellaneous Debris EP

Primus - Miscellaneous Debris EP ©1992 Interscope
1. Intruder
2. Making Plans For Nigel
3. Sinister Exaggerator
4. Tippi Toes
5. Have A Cigar

Primus' little digipack EP, Miscellaneous Debris, has the distinction of being the very first compact disc I ever bought, finally taking me out of the cassette world. And strangely enough, I still have this CD in my possession over a decade later, unlike a ton of other items that got sold or traded over the years.

This EP is nothing more than a stopgap between albums for Primus. All five tracks on the CD are covers of a rather eclectic range of artists, which is hardly surprising considering Primus' already eclectic sound. Miscellaneous Debris finds Primus giving Peter Gabriel, XTC, The Residents, The Meters and Pink Floyd a go, drenching the songs with a unique Primus flavor but still retaining the heart of the originals. That in itself is a tricky feat, particularly when you are working with something as already bizarre as The Residents. There are moments of amusement in hearing Les Claypool sing the lines of David Gilmour (and yes, I'm aware Roger Waters wrote the song) and adding "Bob Cock" to the lyrics. Moreover, the band showcases just how freaking talented they are.

Like Bay Area buddies Metallica, Primus began their slide into less-than-quality releases after Miscellaneous Debris. Primus' original material became forced weirdness over time, but their cover songs were fantastic throughout their entire existence. Unlike some covers collections which are merely superfluous, Miscellaneous Debris is a nifty EP that should be on the shelf of any Primus fan.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 02/2003

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Pork Soda

Primus - Pork Soda ©1993 Interscope
1. Pork Chop's Little Ditty
2. My Name Is Mud
3. Welcome To This World
4. Bob
5. DMV
6. The Ol' Diamondback Stergeon (Fisherman's Chronicles Part 3)
7. Nature Boy
8. Wounded Knee
9. Pork Soda
10. The Pressman
11. Mr. Krinkle
12. The Air Is Getting Slippery
13. Hamburger Train
14. Pork Chop's Little Ditty
15. Hail Santa

I always felt that Pork Soda was the initial stages of the decline and fall of the Primus regime. Granted, as my interest in the band waned, their popularity rose. Regardless, by 1993, Primus had gained the reputation of being offbeat and simply weird and it seemed as if the band tried writing to fulfill those adjectives rather than the less self-conscious music displayed on their first three albums. Frizzle Fry had a certain vibe that was captured by an unassuming band just having a really good time. Pork Soda tends to sound as though the band was a little more self-aware than what is healthy. The free wheeling sound had been replaced by a bit more stodgy, stiff sound. One reviewer in 1993 suggested the band sounded only three-fifths complete and would have benefitted from a second guitarist and a lead vocalist. While I severely feel Les Claypool's vocals are an integral part of the band, there does seem to be the overall feel that something is indeed missing. On tracks like "My Name is Mud", "Bob" and "Mr. Krinkle" and a remake of "The Pressman" (from Suck on This), a lot of time is spent waiting for the song to blossom but the band never quite gets there. Nevertheless, there are still some gems here. Aside from the weary fishing stories that became too much part of the Primus image, "The Ol' Diamondback Sturgeon (Fisherman's Chronicles Part 3)" has a wonderful bassline and mood. "The Air is Getting Slippery" is able to be quirky and weird and still grab onto a Resident's feel of childlike wonderment. "DMV" is amusing, to say the least. Pork Soda is a pretty good album overall but the music on a whole has just enough of an edge of alienation to really keep it from being as great as Frizzle Fry or Suck on This.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 01/2000

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Paradiso - Amsterdam - 1990 [bootleg]

Primus - Paradiso - Amsterdam - 1990 ©1994 Hammerjack Records
CD one:
1. Harold Of The Rocks
2. To Defy The Laws Of Tradition
3. Mr. Knowitall
4. Frizzle Fry
5. Those Damned Blue Collar Tweekers
6. Pudding Time
7. Spagetti Western
8. The Toys Go Winding Down
9. Here Come The Bastards
10. Scared
11. Here I Come
CD two:
12. Tommy The Cat
13. Harold Of The Rocks
14. Is It Luck
15. Too Many Puppies
16. Pudding Time
17. Harold Of The Rocks
18. Mr. Knowitall
19. The Toys Go Winding Down
20. Those Damned Blue Collar Tweekers
21. Too Many Puppies
22. Tommy The Cat

As with many bootlegs, this recording of a 1990 Primus concert direct from soundboard is obviously not something the band would necessarily approve for release, though it is an expansive and fairly entertaining two CD set. The obvious problems are essentially that on the first section, which was recorded at Paradiso, Amsterdam, there are some occasional dropoffs in the sound and the guitar is all but buried. The bonus tracks are from a radio broadcast and are of much better quality. However, both discs are not indexed and the listener is forced to sit through the entire disc in one sitting. Annoying, to say the least. Regardless of all that, you can at least hear Primus play their hearts out with enthusiasm when they were arguably in their prime. The band plays faithfully to the studio counterparts and in the case of "Harold of the Rocks" on disc two, the guitar solo seems to have gained something. There are also a couple of odd non-studio tracks on disc one: "Scared" (which sounds a lot like the Residents, and perhaps is a cover) and "Here I Come". A couple songs from the 1991 release of Sailing the Seas of Cheese were also on the band's setlist at the time and were very much set in structure and sound. This bootleg is not the best I've heard nor is it the worst, but a Primus fan will easily find something to enjoy here.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 01/2000

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Tales From The Punchbowl

Primus - Tales From The Punchbowl ©1995 Interscope
1. Professor Nutbutter's House Of Treats
2. Mrs. Blaileen
3. Wynona's Big Brown Beaver
4. Southbound Pachyderm
5. Space Farm
6. Year Of The Parrot
7. Hellbound 17 1/2 (Theme From)
8. Glass Sandwich
9. Del Davis Tree Farm
10. De Anza Jig
11. On The Tweek Again
12. Over The Electric Grapevine
13. Captain Shiner

Somewhere along the way, Primus needed to put down their instruments and find a compass instead, because Tales From the Punchbowl proved they were totally lost. Up to the release of this album, I had eagerly anticipated and devoured each and every Primus album with the appetite of a tapeworm with a metabolism disorder. And in fact, the catchy, bouncy single "Wynona's Big Brown Beaver" indicated that boy, we were in for one heck of a Primus album.

And were we ever! Unfortunately, it was the polar opposite of what I had been hoping for.

Quite frankly, this album is an enormous chore to sit through. As Primus gained a small cult following, it seemed as though the band members felt obligated to be as quirky and loopy as possible with their music, thus forcing the weirdness. Primus excelled in their early days at simply being weird naturally, which is an amazing feat. The second you start consciously contemplating your weirdness, nothing you do will be as spiffy again. Tales From the Punchbowl comes across as an album with lots of notes but almost no songwriting. Once something sounds this forced, it loses all the charm of the first three Primus albums. Certainly the technical skills of Primus cannot be faulted as these three gentlemen are by far some of the best at their respective instruments, but raw talent can only take you so far when your vehicle is a lemon.

Tales From the Punchbowl had the cumulative effect of killing my interest in Primus and rendering them as a band trying too hard to do what they used to do so naturally. Primus is certainly a fantastic success story for the early 90s, but they didn't exactly finish the decade with a series of great albums.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 03/2003

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Rhinoplasty

Primus - Rhinoplasty ©1998 Interscope
1. Scissor Man
2. The Family And The Fishing Net
3. Silly Putty
4. Amos Moses
5. Behind My Camel
6. Too Many Puppies
7. The Thing That Should Not Be
8. Tommy The Cat
9. Bob's Party Time Lounge

Well, like other area musicians before them, Primus has become that band that has wonderful cover songs but falls flat on their own material. In a stunning twist of irony, Primus happens to cover that other band's music with "The Thing That Should Not Be". I really stopped paying any attention to Primus after the very wretched Tales from the Punchbowl. Since then, they've replaced a drummer, put out another album that really doesn't hold up to their earlier works, and now have put this package together. Rhinoplasty is comprised of six cover tunes, two live songs from their '97/'98 New Year's Eve party and a remake of "Too Many Puppies" from Frizzle Fry. The covers are all great fun. When working within a bit more conventional songwriting, the natural wackiness of Primus shines brightly. Les Claypool's voice has really come into its own, sounding very strong and confident on the down-home "Amos Moses" and others. Their aforementioned Metallica cover is actually true to the original and quite frankly is heavier than what today's Metallica might be able to pull off. "The Family and the Fishing Net", a Peter Gabriel number, retains the original's haunting vibe. However, it's the remake of "Too Many Puppies" (a needless re-interpretation that is but a percent as good as the original) and the two live tracks that reminds me why I'm not as into Primus as I was seven or eight years ago. The live version of "Tommy the Cat" is the third to make to a Primus CD and easily the worst. Drummer Brain is not nearly as dexterious as his forebearer, Tim Alexander, and the strained wackiness harms the song greatly. "Bob's Party Time Lounge" is okay, but not as great as the less self-conscious narratives of yesteryear.

There is also a pretty neat bonus CD-ROM package included on the disc. Featuring a great (and very true to the original) cover of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" and some other clips, it does make this CD a worthwhile purchases for computer owners. However, since not all Primus fans have a computer, it would have been nice to include "The Devil..." on the regular CD.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 11/1998

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Antipop

Primus - Antipop ©1999 Interscope
1. Intro
2. Electric Uncle Sam
3. Natural Joe
4. Laquer Head
5. The Antipop
6. Eclectic Electric
7. Greet The Sacred Cow
8. Mama Didn't Raise No Fool
9. Dirty Drowning Man
10. Ballad Of Bodacious
11. Power Mad
12. The Final Voyage Of The Liquid Sky
13. Coattails Of A Dead Man/The Heckler

Heydihoho, the merry funkpoprock-troubadours return with a new album. Admittedly I was a bit uncertain if I should pick up this album or not, but I got smacked in the face by temptation. A skeedaddle home and turn on the CD and when the album starts off with a mellotron-drenched intro I immediately got my hopes up for this latest Primus creation. This merry band of jokesters have unfortunately become increasily dull with their past few albums, so it was a joy to hear promise in the new album. Ten seconds later "Electric Uncle Sam" started, and an "uh-oh" rose to my lips. What the heck? I guess the guys want to rock, so they open the album with one hell of a dull rocksong.

The following songs are a bit up and down, all trying to be fun and rocking, but for the most part failing. "Laquer Head" has a really nifty bridge, but that can't help this otherwise dead-on-arrival song. Not until the sixth track, "Eclectic Electric", do the boys throw in a surprise. An almost nine-minute long track that proves the guys are still able to make a veritable suite full of nicely connected passages. Everything from the beautiful slow buildup, to the rocking middle, to the almost psychadelic outro. Now this is where I'd like to see Primus go in the future. There's a couple more good tracks, namely the upbeat "Dirty Drowning Man," featuring one of Claypool's best bassriffs in years and the rocking "Final voyage of the liquid sky" with its weird watery-sounding bass and excellent verses. The final track brings back the mellotron from the intro and sounds very much like an old Tom Waits song. Not surprising really, considering Waits himself lends his voice, mellotron-playing and production to the piece. A woman called Martina Topley-Bird lends some beautiful vocals sliding around in the soundscape. It's almost as if she's taken over the place of Lalonde's guitar.

The album ends with a studio-recording of the old live-favorite "The Heckler," which is pretty much what you'll expect if you've heard the original from the live-album Suck On This. The song does little else than to remind one of how much better Primus was in the old day, since it's without a doubt the best of the real rock songs on here. The album's full of guests, from the aforementioned Tom Waits, to Tom Morello, James Hetfield, Ex-Faith No More guitar player Jim Martin, Fred Durst and Southpark-creator Matt Stone. Luckily this barrage of guests hasn't made the album feel pastiched, as all the songs are fairly similar and let the album flow nicely. I'd like to blame the guests for the half-assed songs on here, but Primus are, after all, the main guys behind this.

It's a bit of a shame to see such a talented band as Primus releasing duds like this. I guess the old fan-chant of "Primus sucks" became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Still, if you're a huge fan of the past few Primus albums you might dig this, and probably own it already. If you're just curious about them, I'd advise you to stick with their earlier albums. By now I'm starting to hope the band will split up and maybe go for something else instead. It partly seems to be happening, considering Brain has now joined Guns'n'Roses with his old Praxis-buddy Buckethead, and Claypool's touring with his progrock-coverband the Fearless Flying Frog Brigade. It could be neat to see Lalonde resuscitate Possessed as well. Anything to keep them from releasing more duds like this.

Review by Řystein H-O

Review date: 02/2001

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