Review: Primus – Animals Should Not Try To Act Like People

Originally published in Delusions of Adequacy Oct. 20, 2003
There’s a sample that turns up a few times on the newest record from Primus, their first offering since 1999’s dark and vastly under-appreciated Antipop: the low, bassy slurring of audio tape being looped in reverse.
Slight as it may seem, it may just be one of the biggest defining traits of the record, which hit the streets earlier this month.
After the departure of recent drummer Brain, much chatter about a break-up and more Les Claypool side projects than some would think possible, Primus has returned to its familiar, incredible form on Animals Should Not Try to Act Like People. And they’ve done it all with the help of longtime drummer Tim Alexander, who parted ways with the band shortly after Tales From the Punchbowl was released in 1995.
Ladies and gentlemen, much like that looped tape, we are being pulled backward in time.

To capitalize on the ballyhoo of Alexander’s return to the band, the trio not only cut an EP with five new, amazingly addictive tracks, they decided to combine it with a DVD offering all sorts of visual goodies for the Primus aficionado – and the completist – in each of us.

The DVD features all 12 of the band’s music videos, from early classics like “John the Fisherman” to the quirky, comic book two-dimensionality of “Tommy the Cat,” from the surreal long-take narrative of “Mr. Krinkle” to the colorful rubber suits and bouncing lyric ball of “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver.”

(You’ll also find on the DVD the clay-mation moral lesson of “Lacquer Head,” which was banned by MTV.)

Not to be outdone, though, the band also included the award-winning clay-motion short “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” previously only available as a hidden feature on 1998’s Rhinoplasty.

And films like “Cheesy Home Video,” promotional pieces like “Horrible Men,” featurettes on the making of music videos, band commentaries, and photographs.

And live performances dating from even before the band’s Sausage lineup of Claypool, Jay Lane, and Todd Huth.

And bootleg footage taken at concerts and during radio sessions.

In short: There’s more than three hours of material here for you to digest.

Wading through the familiar images on the DVD’s title menus – nice use of the sculptures, Gus – only one question really remains: What about the band’s appearance in Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey?

While the thrill of having all of Primus’ inventive videos in one place – and not just taped off MTV – is surely worth the corn you’ll kick down for the disc, though, some of the greatest moments on the release are on the new recordings, put to tape in June. Sonically, the new tracks feel like a marriage of the long-form jams and pseudo-narratives from Punchbowl and the heavier rock ruminations of Antipop.

The fifth song on the EP, “My Friend Fats,” is a perfect example of this sound: one of Claypool’s more direct but angular bass lines wraps itself around the repetitive crunch and scales of Larry Lalonde’s guitar as Alexander keeps a stomping but elastic pace. What’s surprising, though, is the scope of the song, which hints at something like “Eclectic Electric” (from Antipop) as much as it does Tool circa Aenima.

You wouldn’t call the song contemporary prog-rock, but it also has a weight and volume to it that separates it from the more radio-friendly tracks of the band’s career, like “Jerry is a Race Car Driver” or “My Name is Mud” or “Too Many Puppies.”

There’s another key detail that keeps Animals from feeling like B-side quality material – I dare you to find any – from Pork Soda or Sailing the Seas of Cheese.

The use of digital delay is all over the new songs, lending a trippy and atmospheric air to Claypool’s textured noodling and Lalonde’s beautifully timed guitar rhythms and interjections. You can hear it on “The Carpenter and the Dainty Bride,” where Claypool builds tension through the repetitions of the delay tool, or on “Mary the Ice Cube,” where Claypool and Lalonde create interweaving figures so spacey, dreamy, and atmospheric, they could make Pink Floyd sound like The Sex Pistols.

On “The Last Superpower, a.k.a. Rapscallion,” the delay is still present, but it takes a back seat to a more direct and funky groove, complete with choppy, reverb-soaked offerings from Lalonde that would work if they were backing James Brown.

But the finest track among the primates’ latest is “Pilcher’s Squad,” which crams into less than two minutes some colorful observations about Sgt. Pilcher’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (you may have heard of them before, if only under a slightly altered name).

The song is an energetic blast of verses and choruses, which borrows from The Residents and Devo as much as it might hint at the jazz-rock cooked up by Claypool, Anastasio, and Copeland in the much-discussed Oysterhead.

It should not be taken lightly to suggest that “Pilcher’s Squad” belongs in the Primus canon right alongside the band’s most renowned – and referenced – work.

According to reports on the web, Primus is slated to take to the road in coming months to play live and support Animals Should Not Try to Act Like People. It’s a great idea, and it will give audiences the chance to see the trio in the form – and with the players – for which it is most known.

But the next step could be an even bigger one: what does a band like Primus do to keep moving forward when they can already rest on the laurels of their celebrated back catalogue? You know what they say. It’ll be a crusade only of the brave. It sounds, though, like Primus is game.

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