Musician Les Claypool has been a bit of a chameleon over the last decade, exploring the jamband world with his collaboration with Trey Anastasio (Phish) and Stewart Copeland (The Police) known as Oysterhead, fronting multiple side projects including, but not limited to, Les Claypool’s Flying Frog Brigade, Col. Claypool's Bucket of Bernie Brains, The Fancy Band, as well as releasing a host of solo material.
But the phenomenal bass master is best known as the face of the gritty art-funk outfit Primus. The trio that formed in the early 80s went on to earn varying degrees of success throughout the 90s, but went on an indefinite hiatus in 2000. They performed a handful of shows over the years, but it seemed to take a backseat to Claypool's other endeavors.
Not any more, as Primus is back in the driver's seat with the release of their first studio album in eleven years entitled Green Naugahyde (ATO Records). This new collection is not likely to win over any new fans (let's face it, if you were not into Primus already then you probably will never be), however long-time followers of the group will be thrilled to hear these new tunes. Each song is steeped in classic Primus, reaching back to the early quirky punk sound the band used to win over so many listeners (think Frizzle Fry or Pork Soda).
Les is back to his old tricks with his riveting lead bass and hypnotic repetition of chords, guitarist Larry LaLonde sounds as solid as ever, and one of their earliest (and best) drummers Jay Lane returns to the fold after being away from the band for over twenty years (he had been playing primarily with the Grateful Dead off-shoots Ratdog and Furthur most recently). Lane has played and recorded with Claypool sporadically since he departed, but his return to Primus marks a bit of a rebirth for this group that started together so long ago.
It only takes a few seconds listening to tracks such as the entrancing "Last Salmon Man" or the carnival-keyed "Eternal Consumption Engine" to understand just how classic Primus this album sounds. The world may have progressed since the band's heyday, but thankfully their style has not.
The band conjures their familiar formula on essential tunes such as the spinning funk of "Lee Van Cleef", the wickedly haunting "Jilly's on Smack", and the dirty alt-rocker "Hennepin Crawler".
The most engaging song on this release has to be "Tragedy's A' Comin", which highlights a mixture of both Claypool's gravelly and high-pitched vocal range. Musically, it is just about as punk-funk as Primus gets with liquid bass drops, LaLonde's scorching guitar, and Lane's thumping beats and high hat mastery. It harkens a bit back to their late 90s sound akin to Antipop, and is the most upbeat rocker on this album.
The word "naugahyde" may refer to an artificial, cheap type of fabric, but there is nothing artificial or fake about this release. It is not filled with overdubs, samples, or musical drivel. Rather, it is three top-notch musicians using their tried-and-true blueprint to create their unique brand of bizarre, goofy, and unrefined design of modern rock.