SHORTIE’S COLUMN: PRIMUS -Suck On This (1989)

Review by: John Short

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The debut outing for Primus is a live album, recorded in February and March of 1989 and documenting one of the earliest shows by what is commonly considered to be the “classic” Primus lineup of Les Claypool on bass, Larry LaLonde on guitar, and Tim Alexander on drums.

And its good! Very good in fact. The band run through a setlist of songs that mostly would be rerecorded in studio a year later with a level of intensity and verve that is shocking if one is only acquainted with the rerecorded studio versions, as I was when I originally bought this album.

The album opens up with a brief cover of Rush’s YYZ before plunging straight into possibly the most famous Primus song, John the Fisherman. This is quite simply one of the catchiest and most memorable tracks to ever spring from the collective minds of Claypool, Lalonde and Alexander, and its bizarre narrative about a boy who dreams of fishing and his ultimate fate never ceases to amuse me. This version of Groundhog’s Day is less engaging to me, perhaps because it is almost identical to the studio version, but it is swiftly surpassed by the next four songs, the only tracks on the album not to have been rerecorded for Frizzle Fry.

The Heckler is an aggressive, jerky, funky song that chronicles the tale of well, a heckler (and describes them in REALLY unflattering terms). It wouldn’t make it to a studio album for almost 10 years, and the eventual studio version of the song is the weaker for this fact.

The Pressman is a slow track, and probably the closest to its studio version of these four, but it is slightly more energetic in this incarnation, so overall I suppose I prefer it to the studio version on Pork Soda.

Jellikit is probably the most interesting track on here, being the only song on the album that was never released on a Primus studio album (Although a radically different studio version recorded around the same time as Pork Soda was featured on the soundtrack to the 1994 comedy Airheads). It’s also possibly the most aggressive, Claypool’s screaming verging on death metal growls during the chorus.

Meanwhile Tommy The Cat is universally considered to be a god-tier Primus classic, but i’ve never been 100% in love with it. This version is superior in energy (and ability to understand the lyrics) but at the end of the day I think I prefer the version with Tom Waits on Sailing The Seas Of Cheese.

The final three songs are almost identical to the studio versions, and so I will postpone discussion of them until the Fizzle Fry to review.

In short, Suck on this is a fine live album and an excellent introduction to Primus as a band. The band displays a fearsome energy that their studio albums only hint at, while the humorous onstage banter (everybody say “Larry you’re a bastard” ) only serves to enrich the experience further. I highly recommend Suck On This, and award it 8/10

SHORTIE’S COLUMN: PRIMUS – Introduction

Written by: John Short

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Often when I encounter people who dislike the mainstream alternative rock scene of the 1990s, I will point them to one of several off-the-beaten path bands that became popular during the early part (pre-1996) of the decade, and Primus is always one of the first that I mention. One of the most successful of a large group of left-of-center bands who broke into the mainstream concurrently with the grunge/alternative rock boom of the 1990s, Primus are in my opinion nothing short of one of the greatest bands to emerge out of that cynical, flannel clad decade.

While originating in the California funk-metal scene of the late 80s, Les Claypool and cohorts presented a radically different take on the genre then the girl-crazy opiate-addled whiteboy-funk offered up by contemporaries such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers and early Faith No More. The music offered on the first two Primus albums is essentially funk metal turned sideways, with a heavy helping of weirdness for flavouring, while psychedelic and progressive rock influences become increasingly apparent on Pork Soda and Tales From The Punchbowl, before being toned down massively for the more rootsy and retro-rock Brown album and the highly commercial and Nu-metal tinged Antipop. The band effectively broke up in 2000, and although they reconvened with the original drummer Tim Alexander for an EP in 2003 and toured throughout the decade, it would be over a decade before Primus would release a comeback album in 2011 and a cover of the Willy Wonka Soundtrack in 2014.

With the slobbering adulation out of the way, I will address some of the more obvious faults of this band. Primus are not particularly original: they borrow heavily from both Frank Zappa and the Residents in their comedic zaniness, while owing an obvious debt to earlier funk and thrash metal acts (indeed, Les Claypool went to high school with Kirk Hammett and auditioned for Cliff Burton’s spot in Metallica following the latter’s tragic death in 1986) Like many other 90s bands Primus do not create something new so much as synthesize what has come before into a chimeric sound that is novel and interesting, but nonetheless may not satisfy those who place a high premium on originality in music.

Primus (and indeed any project that Les Claypool is fronting) are not particularly diverse: get used to funk metal, sea shanties, and bass-heavy prog with this band, because they really don’t do much else, and barring a few significant detours (Pork Soda, Brown Album, Antipop) the majority of Primus’s recorded output sounds very similar.

With that said, if one can accept these faults Primus are an extremely rewarding group. The instrumental prowess of the band is very high, while the often nonsensical lyrics and themes of the band (Pigs, Fish, cheese, etc) provide amusement for the inner child/immature teenager in all of us. In short, this is just a fun band, and one that I highly recommend to anyone who has a taste for humor and wackiness in their music.