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Dusting ‘Em Off: Primus – Sailing the Seas of Cheese

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In the past twenty years Les Claypool has transformed himself into an integral part of today’s music scene. What scene that may be, however, is extremely hard to say. Though, if you listen to Claypool himself he is the biggest thing to happen to “psychedelic polka” ever. That might not be the scene we’re looking for, but it’s something. Of course, we need to look back some to get a better grip on the guy. How about eighteen years ago? That puts us at about 1991.

In 1991, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Nirvana’s Nevermind, U2’s Achtung Baby, and Guns N’ Roses double album Use Your Illusion, along with endless other rock classics, hit shelves and stereos everywhere. Amongst all that, Claypool, guitarist Larry LaLonde, and drummer Tim Alexander released their first major label album as Primus with Sailing the Seas of Cheese. Considering the aforementioned heavyweights issued, it could be said that, rightfully, the band’s debut was drastically overlooked. So nearly two decades later, here we are looking back.

Sailing the Seas of Cheese starts out with what immediately sounds a lot like (at least musically) the intro to Modest Mouse’s 2007 single, “March Into the Sea”. The short intro welcomes you into Claypool’s distorted house of smoke and cheese. Shortly following, “Here Come the Bastards” unofficially opens the album with LaLonde’s guitar work, which seemingly hides away the fact that you’re about to be pummeled instead by Claypool’s bass.

“Sgt. Baker” would make you think Primus were out to make a political statement about military life. Lyrics like, “strip you of your self-integrity, make you all a bit like me”, show that Primus aren’t here just to rock. The introduction to LaLonde’s soloing abilities show that they are, in fact, here to do just that: rock. “American Life” has long been a fan favorite, showcasing the extended abilities of all band members. The song also brings out Claypool’s storytelling structure with a tale of immigrants at “Ellis Isle” and a homeless man who “hold[s] on tight to his dignity.”

“Jerry Was a Race Car Driver” was not the first Primus single, but it was the song that would launch them into the mainstream, and cause developing bass players everywhere to sweat feverishly trying to reproduce Claypool’s monstrous style. The video for this song also featured Claypool’s infamous Rainbow Bass featuring the six strings that helped produce the intense sound. In fact, when the band featured “Jerry” on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Carson was so taken aback by the band that he forget to show their album artwork to the crowd.

After “Jerry”, a seeming state of shock takes over that makes it difficult to recover by the end of “Eleven”. Then “Is It Luck?” kicks in with such a physicality that you feel as if your brain may not make it to the finale. The sporadic guitar playing of LaLonde works best here with Claypool’s constant pounding of the ears, so much so that it’s honestly hard to even attempt to keep up with Claypool’s rapid spit fire vocals.

Thank the musical deities for the 37-second break that allows you to catch your breath before “Tommy the Cat”, which features Tom Waits as Tommy. If you can keep up with Claypool and Waits, vocals your ears work much faster than mine so unto thee I include a link to the lyrics. I only include these because it once again features Claypool’s storytelling style that makes him nearly as famous as his bass playing.

After all that, I need another mental break, which is delivered in the form of “Sathington Waltz”. The last single off the album comes next at “Those Damned Blue Collar Tweakers”. Though some argue the song is about George Bush Sr., others argue that it’s about blue collar meth use, I tend to think it’s about both. Back and forth between musical parts and Claypool’s vocals help sell the story. Featuring alternating bass and guitar solos, Alexander on the drum kit keeps the steady beat that prevents LaLonde and Claypool from running off track.

The album wraps up from here with “Fish On (Fisherman Chronicles, Chapter II)” which seemingly features stories from Claypool’s fishing experiences with, for one, guitarist LaLonde. The song is just as tight musically as many other songs on the album but a slower pace allows for an enjoyable listen.

The band have mostly been on a break from touring together. Claypool’s busy with solo tours and projects, LaLonde toured with Serj Tankian’s band the F.C.C in 2007, and Alexander is currently involved with his new band, Into The Presence. As for the former trio, the band has played together as recent as last years Rothbury and Outside Lands Festivals, and all members have not ruled out new material, either. With any hope, we soon could be sailing the seas at a few more festivals this summer.

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