This is an album that I approached with caution. I have been a huge fan of this band in the past, but some of their more recent releases left me considerably unimpressed. So I’m really hoping for a return to their form as it was in the Frizzle Fry / Sailing The Seas Of Cheese days.
G.N. is the first studio album from the band since 2003’s Animals Should Not Try To Act Like People. GN was released in September 2011 on ATO records and was recorded at band leader and bassist extraordinaire Les Claypool’s Rancho Relaxo studios. Mainstays Claypool and guitarist Larry Lalonde are present, with the new addition of drummer Jay Lane who played on a number of Claypool’s side projects.
From the first bars of opening track “Hennepin Crawler” it is instantly obvious that you are in Primus-land, with crazy bass lines, discordant funk guitar chops and Les’ inimitable vocals immediately questioning your sanity.
The initial, pleasing news is that this album is definitely reminiscent of their earlier works, featuring brilliant elasticated bass grooves (duh!). The other very pleasing aspect is that Lalonde’s guitar work is given much more room to impress itself upon the listener. Lane has also been a great addition, adding much more funkiness to the overall sound. On the subject of funk, many of the tracks are really, and I mean REALLY funky, with obvious influences from Parliament and Sly And The Family Stone. However they are funky in a dark, spooky fashion. Difficult to articulate in words. I felt at times as though I were being lured into a dark circus sideshow by a funky guitar wielding pimp! It’s certainly an odd listening experience, one minute upbeat funk, the next brooding darkness, all the while, Les’ vocals gnawing at your consciousness!
The bass has more wah and chorus effects on it that previous albums, but this adds well to the already wonderfully skewed musical mood. Of course the bass is still an indispensable feature of Primus, and bassists worldwide will no doubt love this album.
Les’ vocals are slightly irritating at times, as has always been the case, but they are low enough in the mix so as to not be grating. The lyrical themes are as abstract as always, with the obligatory references to Les’ fishing experiences. This is a really difficult album to categorize. It’s just Primus. That’s it.
Some of the tracks do drag on for too long and there is an absence of any track suitable for a single release. There is also slightly less “rock” to the album than previous releases and there are no songs like perennial favorites “John The Fisherman”, “Jerry Was A Racecar Driver” or “Winona’s Big Brown Beaver”, but I really quite like the “dark funk” direction the band has bravely taken.
Favorite tracks would have to be “Tragedy’s a Comin’” which is foot-stomping heavy funk, a la Infectious Grooves and features some terrific funk guitar riffery and solos together with chant along, good times gang vocal chant. “Eyes Of The Squirrel” is a frightening piece of uber-weirdness, containing some bizarre lyrics with more than a slight stylistic nod to Pink Floyd. It also possesses some of the best bass work on the album. “Eternal Consumption Engine” in addition to having a great title, ventures very close to Mr Bungle territory, with some great cello work by Les and some spooky xylophone added for great, atmospheric effect “Lee Van Cleef” is as rockin’ as the album gets and can only be described as a bizarre, demented, redneck, funk! There is also some more nice guitar soloing on this track. The album’s title was taken from a film the band saw, in which actor Lee Van Cleef was driving a Studebaker with a green naugahyde interior.
There are some filler tracks. “Jilly’s On Smack” is a formless miasma and drags on for too long, and “Moron TV” is a little too repetitive and one-paced. Both feature very good instrumental performances, however, much like the rest of the album.
Anyone (including this reviewer) who thought Primus had run their race, may have to eat their words as this album is fairly impressive. It’s instantly old school Primus, but the aforementioned darkness and funk give it a unique quality. The playing is top notch by all three musicians, and only Les’ vocals let it down depending on your point of view of course! The production is also very good, with all instruments occupying their own space in the frequency spectrum. Non-fans of Primus will undoubtedly find this a difficult album to get their heads around, but that’s nothing new, and I doubt the band or fans of the same will care at all.
In Green Naugahyde, Primus has managed to remain instantly recognizable, and have also brought many new elements to the musical table.
I don’t love this album or even think it’s one of their best. But it certainly is their best since Tales From The Punchbowl (1996), and I encourage anyone who is/was a fan of the band to give it a spin. Non-fans and never-heard-of–thems that are feeling adventurous or in a strange mood should also definitely check it out. Well done Primus for staying true and being fresh simultaneously.