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Primus - Tales From The Punchbowl CD (album) cover




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3.92 | 127 ratings

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4 stars Les Claypool is an American original. His bass guitar should be carved on the face of Mount Rushmore, maybe replacing the dainty pince-nez of that old Imperialist Teddy Roosevelt. And his band Primus likewise deserves to be recognized as a National Treasure, especially during a sillier-than-usual election season. Perhaps the GOP can adopt the song "Southbound Pachyderm" for their national presidential convention in Tampa this summer.

Political kidding aside, the band's 1995 album is vintage Primus. There aren't too many bands able to perform songs with titles like "Professor Nutbutter's House of Treats" and still be considered credible musicians. On the other hand, how did such an irreverent group of dedicated misfits earn a page on a web site devoted to the high-minded aspirations of Progressive Rock?

Claypool likes to present his songs as if they were carnival side-show attractions, full of geeks, freaks, and blabbermouth barkers. But there's nothing funny about the invigorating industrial funk of "Mrs. Blaileen" or the aforementioned "Professor Nutbutter" (except of course for the deadpan perversity of the lyrics). Listen to guitarist Larry LaLonde's Fripp-like runs in "Year of the Parrot" and "On the Tweek Again", or to the Lark's Tongues intensity of the rising chords in "Over the Electric Grapevine", and then ask yourself if this isn't a trio of closet Progheads in Alt Rock drag.

The tasty "Glass Sandwich" offers a clue to what THE RESIDENTS might have sounded like with virtuoso chops. And the expected white-trash stomp is represented by the "De Anza Jig": a banjo-driven parody of suburban backwoods Americana (the song is named after Claypool's Richmond, California, high school), and referencing both the Jack-In-The- Box and Taco Bell junk food franchises.

And then of course there's "Wynona's Big Brown Beaver", arguably the most irresistible song in the Progarchives database about a girl's troubled relationship with her (pet?) beaver. Actress Winona Ryder reportedly took offense at what she considered some barbed double-entendres, which to me sounds like a case of Tinsel Town paranoia. The song might be a Marin County outlaw taking random potshots at a local Petaluma celebrity, but it's hard to see any real connection: after all, the lyrics make no mention of shoplifting arrests or an iffy big screen résumé (there is, however, another nod to Taco Bell...)

Judge for yourself. And then by all means listen to the rest of the album too. It may not resemble anything like traditional Prog Rock, but the undeniable skill, invention, and even the iconoclastic low-brow humor locates the Primus trio in a class all their own.

Neu!mann | 4/5 |


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