Tales From The Punchbowl


Interscope Records, 1995


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Geez... has it really been over a year since Primus last graced the pages of "The Daily Vault"? Last time we looked at the alternative trio who took the rulebook of rock and lit it on fire, they helped us kick this website off when we looked at Suck On This.

That album was 1989, though - let's now jump ahead in time to 1995 and look at Tales From The Punchbowl, an album which was criminally overlooked by many people. Although it might have been seen as a novelty album after the minor success of "Wynonna's Big Brown Beaver," this album showed the true musical talents - as well as looniness - of Les Claypool and crew.

If memory serves me right, this album featured the last recorded appearance of Tim "Herb" Alexander, who parted ways with the group soon afterwards. Damned shame - Tales From The Punchbowl showed just how talented Alexander was behind the drumkit, from snare rolls leading into cymbal action to frantic double-bass work, Alexander's talents were just coming to the forefront. (I'm ashamed to admit I have yet to purchase or listen to The Brown Album, Primus's last release.)

Claypool is one of the few musicians around who can use his bass guitar in the same manner that a regular guitarist would whip out leads; Claypool might just well be the most talented bass guitarist alive right now. (I still admire the work of the late Cliff Burton of Metallica, though.) Larry LaLonde's guitar work is also at its creative peak on this album.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Guess now is the best time to bring up the biggest complaint I have with Tales From The Punchbowl - why the hell are Claypool's vocals buried in the mix? On songs like "Professor Nutbutter's House Of Treats," it's damned near impossible to understand what he's saying most of the time. The only other complaint comes on the second half of the album - unless you have the CD and are watching the track numbers, it's really hard to follow which song you're listening to. (I was unfortunate enough to buy the tape - while we're at it, couldn't lyrics have been enclosed?)

Okay, enough griping. As long as this album is remembered for "Wynonna's Big Brown Beaver," we might as well talk about it. It's a hell of a track to be remembered for - Claypool's bass lines often sound like a second lead guitar, while LaLonde simply goes bananas with his solos. The video for this one is a stitch, by the way - the band members are heavily made up to resemble the cowboy brethren of that family in the Duracell commercials of a couple years back. And if you took the time to read the bass drum head, yes, there once was a band by that name - check the video to see what I'm talking about.

The remainder of Tales From The Punchbowl is simply incredible - though I could have lived without the Doppler-effect car horns on "Hellbound 17 1/2 (Theme From)," as I was driving when this track came on, and it scared the hell out of me. (I almost wrapped the Pierce Pinto around a tree in fright.) "Southbound Pachyderm" is an incredibly mature selection, including killer bass work from Claypool, who almost gets into a Ted Nugent "Stranglehold" groove. "Year Of The Parrot," "Mrs. Blaileen" and "Glass Sandwich" also stand out.

But the problem is that many people don't take Primus seriously, nor are they willing to take a chance with one of their albums. 'Tis a shame that these people don't know what they're missing. Sure, Primus could well be the clown princes of alternative funk, but Tales From The Punchbowl is one of their most listener-friendly works of their career. Each moment of weirdness has its place, and it's no longer weirdness for its own sake.

If you've ever given even a passing thought to getting an album by Primus, then Tales From The Punchbowl is the one you should pick up and take a big swig from. Controlled lunacy never sounded so good.

Rating: B+

User Rating: B



© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Interscope Records, and is used for informational purposes only.