I, for one, thought Primus were officially dead in regards to new material. Their last studio album was 1999's Antipop before they went on hiatus, and since their reformation, the only new material we've gotten is the so-so 2003 EP Animals Should Not Try to Act Like People. The fact that they could somehow get it together enough to actually record a full record of new material is impressive enough--that the result is downright fantastic is cause for celebration. As their newest album in over a decade, Green Naugahyde is absolutely wonderful.
I will say, the absolute best thing about Primus is Les Claypool's bass. This album is no exception to that rule. The mix on this album (as with most Primus releases) pushes the bass to the front, which means we get to hear every single juicy note clearer than a Cliff Burton solo. And let me tell you, the bass on this album is tastier than an ice cream sundae topped with ecstasy. The hors d'œuvre track "Prelude to a Crawl" is only a small sampling of what Claypool has to offer on this album. "Eyes of the Squirrel," and "Jilly's On Smack'" and the solo on "Hennepin Crawler" all feature bass so entrancingly well-performed that you'll need to strap your ass in for fear of unsolicited booty-shaking. "Last Salmon Man" (part four of Primus' ongoing "Fisherman's Chronicles" song cycle) also features a strong, bouncing bass reminiscent of "Here Come the Bastards," guaranteed to get you hooked to the song in an instant.
I don't mean to imply that the rest of the band are slacking in any way. All of the members of Primus' trio are incredibly talented, and the way they play together is exemplary. I'd estimate that they're challenged only by Rush for the title of best power trio in the business. By way of example, though the solo in "Tragedy's a' Comin'" is guitarist Larry LaLonde's time to shine, it's hard not to notice how well in sync the entire band is playing. Claypool's bass and Jay Lane's drumming work together with LaLonde so smoothly that you could spread it on a bagel. Okay, that metaphor sucked, but you get my point--these guys work incredibly cohesively, even when one of the members gets a moment to stand out on his own.
LaLonde's guitar playing is actually one of the most underrated facets of Primus' sound. Even though he usually gets pushed to the back and often winds up repeating his lines several times over, his riffs are so entrancingly produced that it's difficult to let all of the subtelties of his sound pass you by. His minimlastic style of playing on this album means that every note counts, and you can tell from how he plays that he means it. All of the melodies are intricately and purposefully composed, wasting no notes and adding no filler. And he can certainly let loose when he wants to; the solos on "Last Salmon Man" and "Lee Van Cleef" are absolutely superb, and the way "Jilly's On Smack" goes from delicate plucking to sweeping screeches of chords is astonishing.
Now formerly ex-Primus drummer Jay Lane, sidling on over from the Grateful Dead-nostalgia band Furthur, replaces longtime member Tim Alexander on this album, and he is absolutely fantastic. His style mimics LaLonde's in that he values minimalism, but he takes a much different approach. His style is incredibly focused on doing a lot while sounding like he's producing as little as possible. He's never far forward in the mix, but supports the other musicians incredibly well. There's a lot of technicality to his drumming, but it's always done in a non-intrusive way. "Eyes of the Squirrel" features a brilliantly timed and hypnotic drum line, and the drumming "Extinction Burst" is nothing short of crazy. The casual listener won't pick up on it, but if you're attentive, you'll find his surprisingly complex rhythm work to be incredibly rewarding.
The only complaint I really have is that Claypool's lyrics have a habit of getting preachy, even if it is in his own charming way. No matter how great "HOINFODAMAN," "Eternal Consumption Engine" or "Moron TV" are instrumentally, it's just a little souring to listen to his overtly blunt lyrics. Admittedly, it is part of Primus' shtick that Claypool produces that level of awkward casualness with his lyric work, but it feels just a skosh more forced on this album than in previous efforts (yes, just one skosh). It's much more enjoyable and stylistically appropriate when he's singing about "whatever happened to Lee Van Cleef?"
This is classic Primus in action here, and veterans of the band will readily hear the throwbacks to Frizzle Fry and Sailing the Seas of Cheese. Green Naugahyde is technically astounding in the most subtle way possible, absolutely hilarious all the way through, and thoroughly difficult to not enjoy. While I would recommend this album heavily for nearly everyone, someone encountering Primus for the first time may find the almost abrasively loony nature of their sound nigh impenetrable. Still, if you haven't heard these guys before, give them a chance. Anyone who is willing to relax just a little bit and take this album for the virtuosic and cartoony jam fest that it is will be more than pleased.
8.5 / 10
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