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Primus -  Primus & The Chocolate Factory With The Fungi Ensemble  CD (album) cover




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3.40 | 35 ratings

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3 stars On paper it looks like an off-color punchline: the art-thrashers of Primus, playing songs from the movie "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory"...specifically the 1971 version, not the anemic CGI reboot directed by Tim Burton, described by Primus frontman Les Claypool as a "horrendous, horrible remake that left the taste of feces in our mouths".

But maybe the idea isn't so farfetched. There was always an element of childlike enthusiasm in Claypool's bass playing, matched to a not incompatible streak of adult subversion in Roald Dahl's original 1964 story. Claypool and company merely exposed the hidden underbelly of songs like "Candy Man", using sinister vocals and ominous marimbas (and yes: marimbas can be ominous).

The album is dedicated "to the wondrous talent of Gene Wilder" (and not Johnny Depp, please note), suggesting an attitude of humble tribute rather than satire. And the music itself was described by Claypool in a Rolling Stone interview as "early Peter Gabriel meets Dark Side of the Moon meets The Residents", with emphasis clearly on the latter influence. The anonymous avant- rock weirdos have inspired more than one Primus detour. And, like too many Residential efforts, this one also foregrounds the album's concept over its actual composition.

But it's a heck of a concept, even extending to the clever promotional gag of including 'golden tickets' in five vinyl copies of the album, entitling the lucky recipients to free Primus concerts for life. As Veruca Salt might have said, "I want it now!"...although doubtless without the same adenoidal growl used by Claypool, in his minor-key Arabian remix of the Leslie Bricusse / Anthony Newley song of the same name heard here.

Unfortunately, even with a showroom full of Lickable Wallpaper, Fizzy Lifting Drinks, and Everlasting Gobstoppers there isn't much substance to really sink your teeth into. Six of the fourteen tracks - almost half the album - stop well short of the two-minute mark, with the four- second (!) "Lermaninoff" ending before it actually begins. And the familiar "Oompa-Loompa" theme is played four times, just like in the movie, but in the same, more-or-less straightforward reading for each repetition.

The album might be almost too respectful of its source, never unleashing the full-funk beast of Claypool's bass guitar virtuosity. His awesome chops continue to elevate the instrument above its usual role as mere rhythmic support. But he spends more time bowing rather than slapping his bass strings here, careful not to disturb the quasi-classical arrangements of each updated song.

The "Pure Imagination" extolled by Willie Wonka, and typically the creative bread-and-butter to even a bass guitar-toting rebel like Les Claypool, is what's missing here. Maybe it comes alive in concert, but on disc the music remains little more than a curious and amusing novelty.

Neu!mann | 3/5 |


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