Primus Frizzle Fry

[Caroline; 1989]

Styles: funk rock, metal, quirk rock
Others: Big Chief, Funkadelic, Tom Waits, Rush

Along with the late Jimi Hendrix, Les Claypool should be recognized as the rock musician most likely to make his instrument sound like anything. A race car engine, a circus net, impatient finger tips, a chirping bird; Claypool mastered his bass so adroitly that it became a living thing. This notion in fact became so integrated into the public’s perception that Primus became synonymous with “Les and the bass.” And while the band’s more recent records have given some support to this notion, the release of Frizzle Fry introduced Les, Tim Alexander, and Larry LaDonde to the world as a cast of equal contributors.

Neither Primus’ approach to three-piece rock music nor their claymation tales of fishing and food fights were ever conventional. In the late 1980s, when the novelty of such titan arena-thrash acts such as Slayer, Megadeath, Anthrax, and Metallica had lost their potency, Primus brought a unique and creative spirit to the metal/thrash genre. The album’s opener, “To Defy the Laws of Tradition” honors its title with its whining guitar melody line and an urgently tapped rhythm section. “To defy the laws of tradition/ Is a crusade only of the brain,” Claypool insists in his wise-guy, corner-of-the-mouth vocal signature. As the album continues, it furthers its defiance of metal with its lush cartoon narratives that accompany the band’s maladjusted funk. It’s in this release that we’re first introduced to the tales of “John the Fisherman”(a character that would re-emerge in later releases) and “Sathington Willougby.” In contrast, Primus also shows its versatility with the poignant anti-violence piece, “Too Many Puppies.” “Too many puppies/with guns in their hands,” they say before delving into a sputtering mayhem of instrumental diatribe. “The Toys Go Winding Down” follows in kind as a creepy, rubber-band dirge.

With its quirks aside, Frizzle Fry follows a pattern that, by the time side one has ended (yes, old schoolers, I’m proud to own the cassette version), the listener knows what to expect. The remarkable thing is that each song finds a unique place, a unique groove
within this pattern, creating an environment akin to a comic book opera. We’re introduced to groundhogs and cave-dwelling sea people, each celebrating their plights with their own surging funk themes. Like their famous four/five string bandmate, Larry LaDonde and Tim “Herb” Alexander excel in this vain. LaDonde with his ability to bend his strings into glorious funk harmonies, and Herb sometimes tapping, sometimes bashing his way through diverse slates of time signature.

Primus would next appear on 1991’s equally impressive major label debut, Sailing the Seas of Cheese, an effort that would again showcase Primus as a complete band with a slew of talents at hand. Undermining that recording, however, was Claypool’s brimming abilities being carried to the forefront by the then ubiquitous music media. As a result, Claypool became Buddy Holly to the chagrin of his Crickets. We see therefore that Frizzle Fry exists in an entity all its own. It emerged in the brutal valley between a stalling thrash scene and the emerging stardom of one of the most prolific and “quirky” musicians that the rock world has known.

1. To Defy the Laws of Tradition
2. Ground Hog's Day
3. Too Many Puppies
4. Mr. Know It All
5. Frizzle Fry
6. John the Fisherman
7. You Can't Kill Michael Malloy
8. The Toys Go Winding Down
9. Pudding Time
10. Sathington Willoughby
11. Spegetti Western
12. Harold of the Rocks
13. To Defy