Primus: Green Naugahyde

Les Claypool & friends return with another solid collection.  

Iann Robinsonby Iann Robinson



Green Naugahyde

ATO Records/Prawn Song

Few bands summed up the early to mid-nineties musical era like Primus, a bass heavy act that orbited around the four-string mastery of Les Claypool. By taking the idea of anything goes a step further than any other band in that period (oft and disgustingly referred to as the “grunge” era) Primus captured the spirit of alternative in ways their peers didn’t. While Nirvana, Pearl Jam and bands of that ilk made brilliant but often dark and brooding music, Primus injected a much-needed sense of humor and off-kilter musical structure. Twelve years after their last full release, Antipop, Primus is back to kick music in the nuts again with Green Naugahyde.

“Hennepin Crawler” opens the record and Primus was smart to do it this way. The song is a classic knee-jerk wobbly tune, the kind of stuff that made them huge.  Primus always sound like they’re laying down theme music for a backwoods giant who sees the world through a haze of inbreeding and confusion. “Hennepin Crawler” constantly feels like it’s about to collapse, as though nobody was in the same room during the recording. Time signatures change, guitars sweep in and out, the bass repeats itself until it’s time to throw in a weird dash of this or that. That frenetic energy is what makes Primus stand out and it works here in spades.

“Last Salmon Man”, a supposed sequel to “John The Fisherman” plays like a military march as performed by Rush on acid. “Eternal Combustion Engine” comes across like circus music from the big top in Hell, while “Tragedy’s Cousin” rattles the brain into thinking of Parliament Funkadelic interpreted by a gaggle of Calculus professors.  “Hoinfodaman” is a savage rock jam, a dark and pissed off tune that breaks off into different textures on a dime. It’s easily one of my favorite tracks on the record.

Nothing on Green Naugahyde should work together; in fact this entire album should sound like a big mess. Instead it rises and loops, twists and turns around the expert playing of both Les Claypool and Larry LeLonde. Critics and fans can sleep on LeLonde’s guitar contributions to Primus all they want but the man has vicious chops. LeLonde doesn’t just keep up with Claypool; he makes the bass more interesting. Swirling around Claypool, LeLonde fills in the holes, bridges the gaps and tightens every single note. Without him in the band what you’d have is a cool drummer behind bass masturbation.

Replacing former drummer Tim “Herb” Alexander is original Primus skinsman John Lane who steps right up to the plate. Lane knows, as Alexander did, when to let Claypool take the lead and when to push his own envelope. The rhythm concoctions on Green Naugahyde are a wonderful demonstration of what happens when a drummer plays the entire kit, using the hi-hat with just as much creativity as the snare or toms. Lane switches from free strokes to distinct patterns using these differences to strengthen the Claypool bass lines much in the same vein as LaLonde. Les Claypool is no idiot; he knows his stuff is only as good as the people he plays with.

I won’t lie to you, there is nothing on Green Naugahyde like “Jerry Was A Race Car Driver” or “My Name Is Mud” but I’m pretty excited about that. Claypool understands that his past is just that and trying to recreate it would result in failure. He’s played in so many other projects it’s only natural his playing mature and his love of experimentation grow. “Jilly’s On Smack” is a pure escape into how long can we make different sounds and layer different parts over each other. The song brings to mind “Crosstown Traffic” from Hendrix but never loses the Primus thump. Another of my favorite tracks is “Lee Van Cleef”, a goofy and fun tribute to one of the most badass actors ever. Think I’m wrong? Check out the film Sabato and then get back with me.

Having been left unsatisfied by Antipop, I approached Green Naugahyde with a lot of trepidation. What I found was a band that had come full circle, embracing their darker roots of the early Frizzle Fry work but making sure to add healthy doses of what the band is about now. Just as they had during the be-sad-and-wear-flannel “grunge” era, Primus are spitting in the eye of any convention or the scene it’s built on. This is the new Primus, weird, confrontational and completely on their own wavelength. Oddly, that’s just like the old Primus.