So, what do we have here? Primus returns (with drummer Jay Lane, not Tim Alexander or Bryan “Brain” Mantia) and, if you are to believe the press, with a renewed bounce in their step. Even the cover of the latest Green Naugahyde looks akin to the carefree insanities of Frizzle Fry and the live Suck On This. Bassist Les Claypool still plays like a madman and sings like a cartoon character (a lot of the time) and, yes, the overall spirit of the disc is not as arch as Pork Soda or as aggressive as the Brown Album.
What it is, if you’re prone to listening to lyrics, is topical…very topical. “Last Salmon Man” finds the character in the song not a bizarre figure like John The Fisherman, but a lost soul who made a promise to his dying father to keep the family fishing boat up and running. He does, but the river is polluted and the fish don’t come as easily or often as they used to. “Eternal Consumption Engine” is a warning cry against rampant materialism, “Eyes of the Squirrel” points a finger at the online world and its seductive time-wasting capacities while playing on the theme of “the eyes of the world (squirrel) are upon you,” “HOINFODAMAN” reeks of self-hatred for selling out (or sounds that way with lyrics like “I used to be a pimp but now I’m ho’in for the man, ho’in for the advertising man”) and “Jilly’s On Smack” and she won’t be coming back for the holidays.
Heavy stuff, and not in the musical sense, as Green Naugahyde is probably as spirited and limber as the band has been in many a season. In truth, there’s nothing at all wrong with that and credit has to go to Claypool for his direction. He has said in interviews that he couldn’t have written a song like “Jilly’s On Smack” in the past because he hadn’t experienced friends dying of drug overdose. It is not uncommon for bands to work their experiences into their music, but most bands don’t sound like Primus, whose self-aware oddness provoked their own early-days mantra: “Primus Sucks!” Claypool, LaLonde and Lane have, instead of regressing lyrically to easier themes, embraced these realities and incorporated them in the work.
Some songs handle it better than others. “Last Salmon Man” is a thought-provoking piece. “Lee Van Cleef” is a nod to the fun and generally inconsequential good-time ethos of earlier days. “HOINFODAMAN” can be read as castigation as well as self-flagellation. “Eternal Consumption Engine” and “Eyes of the Squirrel” can be heard as a little bit preachy and not as effective. Overall though, there is a courageous aspect to Green Naugahyde I was not anticipating. The album finds Primus as grown-up, more a part of their world than their younger selves. The album ultimately is better than not and I think some fans will be genuinely pleased with it.
There might be a contingent that is less enthusiastic though. I expect to see some reviews from entities looking for the rubbery escapism of old times, disgruntled in the face of the album’s topical nature, complaining about why Claypool and company had to drag such “negatives” in to the party. To them I would say that an artist that rejects his or her own growth and understanding of the world and, instead, plays that old role again and again is not really offering much. They consist of old men hitting on teenaged girls like they still had enough bloodflow to do something about it. They play that role not because they’re feeling it, but because they know the role pays the money.
You could say that, on Green Naugahyde, Primus has rejected whoring for the man.
Green Naugahyde is available from Amazon.com.