Album Review: Primus and the Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble

Primus-And-The-Chocolate-FactoryThroughout my childhood there have been many films that have captured my impressionable imagination and then warped and raped it.  The Secret of Nimh, The Dark Crystal, The Brave Little Toaster, Labyrinth, Dumbo, Watership Down, etc.  They were all able to lure me in with colors, cuteness, and imagination and then rip the rug up from under me and show me the dark, seedy underbelly of the world in all its twisted glory.  I don’t know why, but I always tended to gravitate toward this style of film in my young age (and well into my teenage years and adulthood).  Sitting at the top of horrifically cute films lies the 1971 cinematic masterpiece Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory starring the great Gene Wilder in the role he was born to play; the magically mad Willy Wonka.  From the colorful cinematography to the densely dark under-themes of consumerism and greed the film didn’t shy away for a moment from the fact it was luring young kids into its mind-rape Ford Econoline van with pretty colors and promises of candy.

Another aspect of Willy Wonka that cements it as one of the greatest cinematic achievements is its soundtrack.  From happy and uplifting ‘Pure Imagination’ to nightmare inducing boat ride song the music of the flick covered just about every reachable aspect of places ones imagination can go.  And I’ll be damned if they weren’t catchy songs.  Don’t tell me you don’t find yourself humming the Oompa Loompa songs from time to time.  It was simply a quirky, fun, and occasionally dark bit of music.  And do you know what else is quirky, fun, and occasionally dark (ok, a bit more than occasionally)?  The long-standing oddball band, Primus.

Like myself, Primus’ lead oddity/worlds most insane bassist Les Claypool was highly influenced by said 1971 film.  And, while for years I have never been able to really pinpoint a direct influence to the incredibly unique style of Primus’ music other than saying ‘Zappa-esque’, after listening to their latest musical offering, it’s quite clear just how much of an impact that the film had on the formulation on the bands quite singular sound.

Primus and the Chocolate Factory is a record composed of 12 cover songs and 2 inspiration pieces which open and close the record.  But, if you have ever heard Primus in general, you know that a direct cover (or anything ‘normal’ for that matter) is something that does not exist in their massive catalog.  So, what we get is a completely warped and twisted version of some already warped and twisted songs, and a couple nice ones as well.

primus-e1406724492912‘Golden Ticket’ stands as one of the most accessible and interesting tracks on the album.  While maintaining that joyous, lighthearted feel of the original Primus is able to spike in some nightmare fuel by having Les play this happy, quirky bassline and sing in his ‘happy-Les’ voice, then contrast it with carnival-like percussion work delivered by returning long-time Primus mainstay Tim ‘Herb’ Alexander, and vibraphone and marimba rhythms that tickles your brain provided by guest Mike Dillon.  Then there’s theses guitar licks that somehow are unsettling and cheerful at the same time; something that only Larry Lalonde can pull off.  All together these different moods of happiness and fear that is unexplainable.  It’s kind of like relaxing like a king in a pool of top shelf champagne while being fed grapes by Liv Tyler and Angelina Jolie while some Eldrich thing creeps around the room occasionally picking up a live chicken and eating it, making a point to crunch the bones extra loud.  This goes double for the other huge standout track (and probably the most famous song from the film) ‘Pure Imagination’.

Other parts on the album that I particularly enjoyed were the darkened take on ‘Candy Man’ where while the song is originally thought to be intended as a fun song about the candy man, the Primus rendition shows who we discovered to be the real candy man as we became adults.  The spin on Miss Veruca Salt’s ‘I Want it Now’ maintains those dark undertones and counterbalances it with some outstanding Middle-Eastern inspired cello playing (performed by the other half of The fungi Ensemble, Sam Bass).  Make sure you listen to that one with some headphones, because there are some vocal subtleties mixed in that will absolutely creep you out.  It’s absolutely wonderful.  And then there’s the bookend original tracks, ‘Hello Wonkites’ and ‘Farewell Wonkites’, which are Primus kinda-instrumentals have the band just going nuts with the musical themes of the record and carry this really interesting Pink Floyd touch to them (Meddle in particular).

My only major gripe with the album comes from the quadrilogy of Oompa Loompa songs which are peppered throughout the back half of the record (they were also the ones I was looking forward to hearing the most when the record was announced).  While excellent and engaging little ditties in their own rights, this felt like a huge missed opportunity that could have turned out to be ‘the’ high point on an already stunning record.  Thing is, each one lasts about a minute and a half and they are all basically the same, save for the lyrics.  They do work great in keeping the flow of the album, but if they either condensed them into one big song complete with a Primus jam-out on them or kept them apart but made the approaches to the themes totally different I would have been even more impressed and would have served the record even better.

Primus and Willy Wonka go together just as good as peanut butter and chocolate and this unexpected pairing is one hell of a treat.  I seriously nerded out so hard when I first heard the announcement of the concept and I wasn’t let down at all.  All the performances are inspired, incredibly quirky, sinister, happy, and infinity engaging with more than enough respect to the source material.  If you are a fan of either of the two, this album is worth checking out.  If you are a fan of both, why the hell are not at the store picking this up right now!  Peace Love and Metal!!!! 4.5/5

About RiffRaff

Just takin' it easy for all you sinners.

Posted on October 22, 2014, in Album Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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