The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Stank of the Crowd

Primus's guest-star-studded new Antipopblows like a prehistoric can of rotted whalemeat on Y2K Night—and we can only hope the latter's as much of an anticlimax as the former. Hee. That's as much of a laugh as I can get from kicking something so soggy. If only it were spectack-u-lar-ly bad! Then surely Primus masturmind Les Claypool's true spirit would arise from cheesy sleep, delightedly snickering into my headphones, "Yer right Buddeh this ain't sh-h-h-"

He should know. Coming, as he says, "from a long line of automobile mechanics," Les made it through East Bay grease by rigging up the ol' Primusmobile with post-Creedence metabilly engine-uity—also with customized parts stripped from funkmetal Zeppelin, Rush, King Crimson, PiL, Devo, and cryptic critters the Residents. Primus fans tend to be fans of these bands from misc. fringes (North England's Planty and Bonzo were hicks, like Shreveport's Residents; Rush are Canadians), these brainiac (some would say "Rain Man") bands, born lurchingly Different, defiantly determined to succeed by staying that way. As if they had any choice, most of 'em (as bands, not sessionists).

Surely, San Francisco Les has seen plenty Difference go just plain (or gloriously, or just barely) wrong. So, most typically, perhaps pre-emptively (knock on wood), he twangs his prominent proboscis in a song of glee—wonder, even—having sighted yet another instance of mankind's genius for sheer perversity: "Whut fools these mortals be!"

That's when his bass erupts, and words spin like pills, Bob Wills, laundry, "notes" in both senses (Dylan's done this too): dissolving into musical punch lines, spilling your point-of-view toward the eyeholes of Les's characters' masks. No detachment aloud—but yes, "characters" are a must, and flannelled flying feats of instrumental technique. These don't seem to keep anybody out of the moshpit. Also, there's something reassuring about the music's overt theatricality, the percentage of staged fungi in that glow there.

It's not that the words don't matter. It's just—they're riding breath, so (hopefully) they're capable of going pretty far in, and out. On the Residents tribute album Eyesore,Primus cover "Hello Skinny," about a guy who's so sinister he sells somebody a "Hello, Dolly" record he found in the hall (maybe even right after Jim Morrison walked on down it!). This is a wonderful joke on (and by) the Residents. As Primus perform it, you can feel both bands literally lighten up, releasing Skinny (and themselves) from the clutches of reflexive Anti-Materialism, to rise like a kite string brushing the Sublime Ridiculous.

Nevertheless, the Residents eventually resorted to hitting us over the head with a (very expensive-sounding) orchestra, to underline their message ("Life sucks, and then you die—s-l-o-w-w-l-l-y"). But where Primus have always shared some of the Residents' inbred knee-jerkiness, they've also always had an oblique emotional generosity (start with Pork Soda and their devilishly empathetic covers EPs Miscellaneous Debris and Rhinoplasty, then the goose-pimply kidstuff on Tales From the Punchbowl), shared with youngsters like Korn.

Now, on Antipop, Primus's characters have devolved into bad caricatures; messages have emerged like hernias. No orchestra, but the aforementioned guest stars aid and abet the same-type dirty work (and ignorance of the law is no excuse). H-m-m . . . this mean-spiritedness is kinda catchy (pops fingers). I think even I can play this lick (picks up hose).

Curse you, Tom Morello of Rage (whop!), for injecting irrelevant John Henry guitar into a bassment Workers' Paradise. Bunions on thy onions, Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst (whipp!), for producing the "mock"-overwrought antidrug "Laquer Head." Mangy animal crackers in thy soup, South Parkco-creator Matt Stone, for even touching (fwap!) "Natural Joe," about "one mellow-ass sunuvabitch" who supports gun control, so natcherly goes out and kills some folks (followed by gunshots and gurgles, just in case we don't get the Point).

A plague on both yer Metallickin' James Hetfield and ex-Faith No More Jim Martin, for luring me into "Eclectic Electric." Primo bait: J. and J.'s angelic sword-chords. Beyond which we're detained by Lester's sob story about being "blinded by the Sun"—egged on by his dangerously Utopian parents.

Thy ludicrous vocals have finally met their match, have they not, Tom Waits, in "Coattails of a Dead Man" (calls dog)? Aye, 'tis a justice in that, at least (dog urinates on Waits). There remain approximately 18 good minutes on this 63-minute disc—enough to fatten that Primus compilation tape you should be making, if you've got any fresh stomp left in you.

But does Primus? Morello's contributions are sufficiently twitchy, for instance, but remind me of my high school biology teacher making dead frog legs jump, by inserting electricity. Thanks, Tom. Antipop's excellent bonus track, featuring Kirk "Also of Metallica" Hammett and ex-Death Angel Mark Osegueda, is actually a rerun of Primus's decade-old "Heckler," its protagonist once again heckled by El Claypool, con gusto. The one new champeen is "Ballad of Bodacious," regarding a "bo-vine celebre-tee," trotted out once a year to be goaded by moe-rawns craving the most dangerous ride ever (dog flees). The track lurches, sways, strains at its reins, 'til it almost undulates, sleek and unmeek. Not unlike the finest work songs of Morello's crew, but this one's all Primus (think it might be sorter . . . symbolic, of a tireless semi-star, trying too hard to keep up with his ever-rising fellow travelers [Family Values indeed]? Nah, that doesn't quite fit the song. Pay attention, dang it!).

 
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