Primus might be an acquired taste, but once that taste is acquired, you never lose it. Since 1990, Les Claypool and his merry band of oddballs have been keeping us entertained with their gloriously perverse approach to funk, one compellingly unique album at a time. Whether you love them or loathe them (there’s never any in-between), here’s how all 9 Primus albums rank in glory.
9. The Desaturating Seven
Why anyone would want to pay tribute to the 1978 children’s book, The Rainbow Goblins, is a question you’d have to ask Lee Claypool, but that’s exactly what he decided to do on the band’s ninth studio outing, The Desaturating Seven. Having reconvened the classic lineup of Larry “Ler” LaLonde on guitar and Tim “Herb” Alexander on drums, he proceeded to create a darkly compelling mood piece that’s as whacked out and weird as the story it’s inspired by. It’s definitely not for the casual listener, but it’s an immensely interesting listen for devotees. Released on September 29, 2017, it reached number 26 on the US Billboard 200.
8. Primus & The Chocolate Factory With The Fungi Ensemble
Les Claypool has never made any bones about his love for the film “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” telling Rolling Stone, “I don’t think it was until Jaws came along that I was more obsessed with a film, when I started drawing sharks all over my binders and notebooks. Prior to that, it was everything Wonka.” In 2014, he decided to put his love for the film to good use on Primus’ eighth studio album. A typically eccentric affair, Primus & The Chocolate Factory With The Fungi Ensemble brings the sinister undertones of the film to the surface, but it’s done with enough gleeful mischief to keep the album from descending into darkness. Odd, undoubtedly, but kind of brilliant anyway.
Released in 1999 as the final album before Primus’ decade-long hiatus, Antipop wasn’t recorded in the happiest of circumstances, with Claypool later describing it as the most difficult album he’s ever made. “There was a lot of tension between the three of us, and there was some doubt at the label as to whether we knew what we were doing anymore,” he told Vice. “We went on a hiatus, which is a fancy way of saying we just didn’t like being around each other.” Despite the tensions, a lot of good things came out of the recording sessions, including some phenomenal collaborations with Tom Waits, James Hetfield, Jim Martin of Faith No More, Fred Durst, and Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello. Their performance with Waits, Coattails of a Dead Man, is particularly special.
6. Green Naugahyde
In September 2011, Primus dropped their first album since 1999’s Antipop. Clearly, their time away hadn’t dulled their fans’ appetite for their music, with Green Naugahyde climbing to a very respectable number 15 on the Billboard 200. Direct, technically astute, and as always, utterly baffling, it is, as Blare Magazine writes, “the sonic equivalent of being approached on a dark street by a strange panhandler beckoning you down a dark alley” – an experience non-fans might not seek out, but which Primus fans will never say no to.
5. Frizzle Fry
Primus’ first album was the raucous live album Suck on This, but it took their debut proper to really establish their credentials. There are plenty of nods to other artists (Frank Zappa in the humor, the Police in the economy, and Metallica in the energy) but Frizzle Fry is very much a product of their own warped imaginations, with Claypool’s psychedelic poetry, LaLonde’s clanging guitar, and Alexander’s loose loops combining to create something very unique, and very, very special.
4. Brown Album
Primus are many things, but one adjective you’d rarely use to describe their music is “lovely.” But on Over the Falls, one of the star attractions of the 1997 album, Brown Album, they quit being perverse and start being pretty for a change. The rest of the album is standard-issue Primus, with lots of teenage humor, plenty of absurdist narratives, and enough weirdness to sink a ship. Lovely indeed.
3. Tales From the Punchbowl
The band’s last album to be certified gold by the RIAA is Tales From the Punchbowl. Released in June 1995, it became one of their biggest hits to date, peaking at number 8 on the Billboard 200. Everything you expect from Primus is on rude display, particularly on the catchy, slightly demented, and, let’s face it, titter-inducing Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver. Other strange tales to check out include Professor Nutbutter’s House Of Treats and the nightmarish Over The Electric Grapevine.
2. Pork Soda
Truth be told, there isn’t a lot to choose between with our final two albums. Each is astonishing and each has a valid claim to the top spot. But ultimately, one of them has to take silver, and in this case, we’ve gone for Pink Soda. Released in April 1993, it is, as All Music notes, “one of the strangest records ever to debut in the Top Ten.” Dark, heavy, and wickedly experimental, it’s a law unto itself, steadfastly refusing to conform to one genre for more than the length of a single song. It’s a little less consistent than Sailing the Seas of Cheese, but if anything, the musicianship and complexity are even more assured.
1. Sailing The Seas Of Cheese
“Barking mad” might not sound like high praise, but when it comes to Primus, it’s practically a form of endearment. It’s also a very fitting description for their second studio outing, Sailing The Seas Of Cheese. Bristling with some of their most crowd-pleasing efforts (including the flabbergasting Tommy The Cat, furious Jerry Was A Racecar Driver, and proggy Fish On (Fisherman’s Chronicles, Chapter II), it’s a beautifully crafted, exuberantly executed masterpiece. Bizzare, for sure, but all the more bewitching for it.