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Class ?

Main Category: Avantgarde
Also applicable: Hard Rock, Funk/R'n'B
Starting Period: The Divided Eighties
Also active in: From Grunge To The Present Day



Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Primus fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Primus fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Year Of Release: 1990

Whether it was due to a special artistic wish or the lack of funds to pay for studio time, I don't know, but fact is, Primus made their debut album a live one; and huh, considering that most of the songs on here eventually made it onto subsequent studio releases, this makes up for an unprecedented situation, to my knowledge at least (sure there have been particular songs recorded live by artists who only later incorporated them into their studio output, but a whole album?).

Fortunately, it's not the only unprecedented thing for this Primus release. They are often called a "metal-funk" crew, but there were earlier metal-funk crews already (from Faith No More to Red Hot Chili Peppers); Suck On This, to me, often seems more like a "punk-jazz" record instead, which is a different - and even much more rare - category anyway. Not to mention that a live record like this one fully serves to emphasize the band's status as a "power trio". The only untouchable virtuoso on his instrument in this company is Les Claypool on bass, of course, but both Larry Lalonde on guitar and Tim "Herb" Alexander on drums are complete pros on their instruments as well. And yet, at the same time they prefer to play it dirty and squirmy, kicking ass whenever possible and never really showing off, trying to bedazzle the listener with their instruments. The music in particular often reminds one of early Eighties art-punk like the Birthday Party and stuff; it does flirt around with metal themes, of course (after all, wasn't Les a re-converted metal musician?), but whenever my attention does get attracted to some of the more complex figures the band is playing, they remind me more of fusion and avantgarde jazz than of Eighties' power metal.

So, to recapitulate - lots of funky rhythms, lots of jazzy chops, some metal insertions here and there, and the energy and stripped-down attitude of punk. That's Primus for you. Not to forget the sense of humour that permeates the record; Claypool sings in this whirly sarcastic, but inoffensive, tone (I almost end up imagining him with a superficially silly smile on his face all the time! actually, that's the way he sometimes looks on photos), and keeps letting off little self-deprecating remarks offstage all the time ('we're Primus, and we suck!' "hey! we're waiting for this bastard... everybody say 'Larry, you're a bastard'!" and the happy booze-packed audience is ready to oblige).

The lyrics throughout aren't particularly interesting - ranging from totally non-sensic to non-sensic in the specific context (what does the song about wanting to be a fisherman have to do in a Primus setlist?) to occasional character assassination stuff ('Pressman') and so on. And, to tell the truth, the songs themselves - as songs, i.e. melodic entities - aren't particularly memorable either. Most probably, you'll find certain refrains stuck in your head all the time (like the 'it's just a matter of opinion' line from 'The Heckler'), and maybe some of the riffs will strike you as exceptionally terrific, but for me this album mainly works on the "groove" level, well, pretty much in the same (actually, very different, but you know what I mean) way that Cream's live stuff can work for anyone.

All of these songs - all of them - certainly do things to your organism like nothing else can. By combining technical chops with punkish energy, these guys add up what some people thought "unaddable". As a result, the songs aren't just a bunch of messy fast noises - they have distinguishable guitar and bass lines, and not just distinguishable, but often amazingly cool: Les, as we know it, is a bass wizard, and he demonstrates his witty slapping technique on here as well as a whole series of others, while Larry's soloing (and he mostly plays lead lines around Les' tricky rhythms) is fast, fluent, and dazzling. And then on the other hand you can actually have fun with this music instead of just being amazed at the virtuoso playing - you know, some songs are even danceable. But even when they aren't, you'll still want to bop around madly and jerk your shoulders to those classy funky bass runs. And headbang to the more 'violent' guitar passages.

My personal favourites on the album are the "jerkier" numbers (that's not to say they aren't all jerky, but some are jerkier than others, you get my drift?) like, say, 'Pudding Time' where everybody goes nuts seriously, but in the most rhythmic way possible, and Les' slapping just plain drives you mad. Or 'Tommy The Cat', with its paranoid rappy chorus. Ah, if only all those alternative-schmalternative guys weren't just exploiting the "now I'm just talkin' very fast and now I'm SCREAMIN' and the whole band goes loud loud loud with me" scheme of the song, but also had its wonderful drive - so energetic, ass-kicking and yet without a single ounce of that phoney 'teen angst' that, for some reason, always serves as an excuse for lack of melody nowadays... ah uh sorry, I'm kinda digressing here again. No no, I don't wanna sound like a parody on the old toothless Stephen Stills.

A couple of the longer numbers on the record might drag a bit, but even if they do drag, like 'Harold On The Rocks', they can still surprise you - as in that middle section when the band suddenly cuts off the tricky paranoid rhythms and starts playing something that eerily resembles the intro to Led Zeppelin's 'Dazed And Confused' (as played live). And in the end, the major flaw of the album, of course, is that it all sounds the same: Les Claypool is known to be able to tap into just about any style invented, but he doesn't really show that side of his character that much on here. That doesn't mean that one should disregard the fact that 'Jellikit' is one of the greatest post-punk "energy trains" ever written. Nor does it mean that the album deserves anything less than four stars.



Year Of Release: 1990

This one went through a whole-star-upgrading process - at first I was kinda angry that so many songs off Suck On This were reprised in near-equal renditions and the ones that were new didn't sound at all different. So what if most people think of this as the band's debut (and they are wrong in all respects, because obviously playing live is second nature to these guys - they were born to play live, like Cream!)? I did hear it after Suck On This, right?

Heh. Then it turns out that the album is still absolutely wonderful. Well, yes, five of the tracks are reprised, three are short half-minute snippets of goofiness, and so there's only five entirely new songs as such. BUT! The studio versions are just as good as the live ones (and better produced, too), the goofy snippets are classy, and the five new songs rule the hell out of the beegeezus. So why complain? This is prime primal Primus!

Let's worry about the five new songs first. 'To Defy The Laws Of Tradition' deceptively starts out with the same introduction as Suck On This (Herb playing the percussion intro to Rush's 'YYZ', in case you wondered), then kinda "burps out" of the deception and introduces us to a brand new Primus song. Well, okay, so it sounds exactly like all the old ones, but who cares if the sound is so dang good? You can't help but groove to Les' fizzlin' bass lines, not to mention him singing as if he were a fanatic Muslim guy (or should we say "religiously challenged" instead of "fanatic" today?). And Larry effortlessly plays the "two-guitars-in-one" trick, alternating dazzling riffage and something which I'd like to ignorantly call "post-industrial soloing".

'Too Many Puppies' is the album's most obvious hint at the guys' heavy metal past - listen to the song's main riff and tell me it's not reminiscent of Metallica or, if you want newer stuff, Alice In Chains. But that riff is good, and even better is the guys' skill with the stop-and-start structure; it's hard to beat the weirdness of Les whining 'too many puuu-uuuu-uuuuppies' in between the tacts, or the incredible "volatility" of his vocal delivery, from goofy whine to grizzly roar. Likewise, 'Mr Knowitall' kicks plenty of booty in its supreme funkiness and at the same time manages to pack some Kinksish social satire: 'They call me Mr Knowitall/I am so eloquent/Perfection is my middle name/And whatever rhymes with eloquent'.

Probably the best of the "new" songs, though, is 'The Toys Go Winding Down', if only for the sharp contrast between its intro (what's that supposed to be? honky tonk? country? who knows?) and the main part, which has always reminded me of a weirdass take on Sabbath's 'Electric Funeral'. Actually, that's what a lot of Frizzle Fry sounds like: an intelligent satire on heavy metal as we know it. I've already mentioned that Zeppelin reference in 'Harold Of The Rocks' (actually reprised here in the exact same way), and I keep picking more of these subtle Zeppelin and Sabbath references all the time, but it's like it's "demented" Zeppelin and Sabbath. I dunno, doesn't the freaky violin bit (or string bass, whatever, it's so hard to tell with these guys) at the end of 'Toys' remind you of the way Page used to bow his six-string? It sure does to me, but where Zeppelin's goal was to create a disturbance that would freak you out, these guys here are supposed to freak you out with their very existence; if that fact alone doesn't freak you out, nothing will, and so these "nods to our ancestors" come off as goofy and post-modernistic (and sure they do because they are) instead of creepy.

As for the older material, well, the only thing that could make me prefer it to the Suck On This versions is the better production - clean and crisp bass/guitar/drums interplay with everything discernible and every single lick right out there on a silver plate for you to savour. On the other hand, they do capture that live sound in the studio pretty well (dunno how the actual recording takes place, but I'd bet my head most of this stuff is being done live in the studio in the first place), so yeah, I'd definitely recommend these versions over the previous album unless you're one of those types (like me!) who reveres total spontaneity.

Don't bypass the short links either - 'You Can't Kill Michael Malloy', for instance, is a funny twenty-five second waltz dedicated to the memory of the hardest-to-kill person on Earth (you can find a great biography of the guy on the Primus site!), and 'Sathington Willoby' is the way Primus does music hall music. Hint: it definitely is not the way Gilbert & Sullivan used to do it.

All in all, Frizzle Fry is just a terrific sonic experience that won't let you go once you've fallen for it. Sure, you'll be asking yourself "what the hell is this shit?" over and over, and even after you'll like it you won't be able to understand why you like it, but here's a clue - you might just be liking it because it's energetic, weird and funny all at the same time. Which is, you gotta admit, pretty rare in popular music since the days of 'Tommy's Holiday Camp'.


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