When Primus put out their musical tribute to the Gene Wilder classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the aptly-titled Primus & The Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Orchestra back in 2014, everything about the Bay area prog/funk/freak trio seemed to make perfect sense. Les Claypool, the elastic bass genius and singer for the band has secretly wanted to be Willy Wonka all these years. Even from the beginning Claypool has given off a vibe of playfulness mixed with something slightly sinister. It came out in the narratives of his songs, most of which were told in the voice of some bizarro character while the band made music that was part Parliament, part King Crimson, and part Looney Toons. You couldn’t help but be in awe while hearing songs like “John The Fisherman”, “Those Damned Blue Collar Tweakers”, “Tommy The Cat”, “My Name Is Mud”, “Mr. Krinkle”, and “Shake Hands With Beef”, while at the same time have a queasiness come over you thinking about how unsettling these people were in Claypool’s world.
But man, they could play(and no, they really didn’t suck.)
As Claypool has gotten older he’s become more comfortable as a storyteller. With Larry LaLonde, Claypool has created a library of musical oddities spanning over 30 years now. Pulling inspiration from his childhood was something of a eureka moment for Primus, so much so that they’ve based their newest record on a children’s book that Claypool himself read to his own kids. The Desaturating Seven is a concept record based on the Italian children’s book The Rainbow Goblins by Ul de Rico. This album continues the grand return of one of the most unique and uniquely strange American bands in the last 3 decades.
Like Primus & The Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Orchestra, The Desaturating Seven is the primo-era Primus, with Les, Ler, and Tim “Herb” Alexander(along with Justin Chancellor as the Goblin Master.) There’s just something magical about these three when they’re together(nothing against Jay Lane or Bryan “Brain” Mantia.) The ideas of the book and the colorful artwork seem to flow thru beautifully on this record. There’s something heavier and darker here as well. “The Seven” is probably the most Crimson-sounding track Primus have ever committed to an album. Like 80s King Crimson. Those interlocking bass and guitar parts are magnificent, and Alexander has a young man’s power behind those beats. “The Trek” has the jauntiness we’ve come to love about Primus. Claypool delivers the story meticulously as the band kick into old school mode with LaLonde’s quirky guitar lines and Alexander’s tom abuse. “The Scheme” sports a drum and bass part that is both acrobatic and animated like some late night Bakshi find.
As a fan for the last 30 years my biggest issue with Primus was that there never seemed to be enough low end. The songs and musicianship were always there, but on album the songs almost seemed transparent they were so thin. Claypool has become a rather deft engineer in the studio sitting behind the board. He’s given their songs the meat and potatoes they’ve always deserved. When the stereo is cranked there is proper wall shaking going on.
Both “The Dream” and “The Storm” are a mix of art rock grandiosity and pure prog heaven with nods to Genesis, Rush, and even more Crimson make their presence known. It’s a fine way to end the journey.
The Desaturating Seven is a psychedelic musical trip that is heavy at times, funky most of the time, and shows Primus in top form. The Bay area trio have never followed trends or attempted to mollycoddle their fans. They make music that they’re inspired to create. That’s the best kind of art there is. The Desaturating Seven is inspired weirdness of the highest order.