Primus - Green Naugahyde
Prawn Song
13 songs (51 minutes)
Release year: 0
Reviewed by Jake
Major event

The long-awaited studio return by raving mad alt-rock minstrels Primus doesn't waste any time. With the exception of brief intro and outro tracks, the band's usual circus-tent theatrics are jettisoned, and though a few of the songs run quite long, the structures have been streamlined just enough that they all seem to stride right along from start to finish. It's a surprising approach to the comeback album by a band long known for tongue-in-cheek grandiosity, and the result is something that definitely sounds like a Primus album but doesn't really feel like one. To diehard fans, that may be a disappointment; but given that accusations of padding and filler are among the most common criticisms against the band, plenty of folks may find the change perfectly welcome. In any case, there's no reason Les Claypool and company should have felt like they needed to distract from the songs; Green Naugahyde is a thoroughly solid piece of work that ranks somewhere above 1995's Tales From the Punchbowl in the band's impressive discography.

The core of the band's sound is the same as always—idiosyncratic, technical bass playing driving bizarre beat-heavy rock/metal songs, spiced with atmospherically spare guitar parts and punctuated by busy drums. Every single Primus album has delivered a fresh take on that idea, though, and Green Naugahyde is no exception. Claypool (the band's frontman and bass guitarist extraordinaire) has said that the new album reminds him of Frizzle Fry-era Primus, but there's little of that album's high energy or groundbreaking quasi-thrash horseplay on display here. Green Naugahyde sounds more like a calmed-down take on the sliding, muddy, playful darkness of Pork Soda and parts of Tales From the Punchbowl, filtered through the ideas Claypool has experimented with in other projects during Primus' decade-long recording hiatus. (Aficionados will recognize a great deal of Fearless Flying Frog Brigade in the sound, especially in the prevalence of the weird laser-twang bass effect Claypool used on songs like Buzzards of Green Hill). The vibe is relaxed but subtly needling; the music is much more calm, but the echoey effects and the implacable creepiness that were always behind the cartoony polka-metal nonsense are still there.

Fans who come to Primus mainly for the technical virtuosity will be fairly disappointed here. There's a more explicit emphasis on the funk elements of Primus' sound than ever before, and where Claypool used to create bizarre and memorable riffs by applying slap-bass technique to what might otherwise have sounded like metal guitar licks, here he mostly uses the slap technique the way God intended: to create rhythmic and driving but ultimately intuitive bass grooves. He's still in the foreground 100% of the time, and still finds plenty of room for creative and distinctly Claypool bass playing, but gone are boundary-smashing slap/mute riffs that made songs like Tommy the Cat and My Name is Mud classics. Add to that the fact that phenomenal original drummer Tim Alexander, who left in the mid-90s but reunited with the band for occasional touring during the recording hiatus, has opted out again. He's replaced here by frequent Claypool collaborator Jay Lane (who is technically the original Primus drummer; he played with the band in the years before they began recording), and though Lane is a massively talented guy, there's never been a better fit for Claypool's extravagances than Alexander. Imagine Neil Peart of Rush if he'd been taught how to play drums by an uncontacted tribe deep in Africa. That's essentially what Alexander sounded like, and Lane's nuanced but comparatively straightforward approach can't compare in the rhythmically zany world of Primus. Most disappointingly, Larry Lalonde is given very little room to maneuver. He's one of the most creative rock guitarists of all time, and he's largely wasted here. He's an audible presence, and gets in plenty of nicely counterintuitive riffs—check out his pedal-note noodling in the intro to the bright and lurching Tragedy's a-Comin'–but his brilliant solos are all but gone. When he does take a solo, it's always a fairly traditional-sounding one. That was always part of his playing and he remains excellent at making it sound fresh, but the dissonant shredding heard on Jerry Was a Racecar Driver and Pilcher's Squad and the gigantic, effects-laden, what-the-fuck-just-happened-in-my-brain explosions he unleashed on tracks like My Name is Mud and The Heckler are gone. The fact that ol' Ler never gets to be loud and terrifying is the biggest black mark against the album.

The mellower instrumental approach runs a serious risk of alienating fans with expectations, but that's par for the course with comeback albums, and the songwriting is so groovy and confident that anyone who gives the album a fair shake is bound to be won over. It should be said, too, that these songs sound as though they've got a lot of room for the virtuosic jams that have become staples of Primus concerts in the hiatus era. Here's hoping the new tunes take up a prominent spot alongside the old favorites—especially if they come in forms that let Ler Lalonde show off more.

Killing Songs :
Hennepin Crawler, Last Salmon Man (Fisherman's Chronicles, Part IV), Extinction Burst
Jake quoted 89 / 100
Other albums by Primus that we have reviewed:
Primus - Tales From the Punchbowl reviewed by Crash and quoted 90 / 100
Primus - Sailing The Seas Of Cheese reviewed by Goat and quoted 77 / 100
Primus - Frizzle Fry reviewed by Goat and quoted 86 / 100
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