Cast your mind back to 1991 if you can. Even if you were nothing more than a glint in the fisherman’s eye, that era is dominated in the collective music consciousness by the Seattle scene. Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden ruled MTV. Like lumberjack-shirt-clad rats the videos of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ or ‘Jeremy’ were never more than twenty minutes away. The alternative was now mainstream. If you wanted an alternative to the alternative you headed for the new Primus album.
Often lumped-in with the funk metallers due to the predominance of slap bass, there was always something more exciting to me about this quirky trio of musos than Suicidal Tendencies, Red Hot Chili Peppers or even Faith No More. Maybe it was the way they quoted Rush’s “YYZ” on ‘John the Fisherman’. Maybe it was the fact that Larry LaLonde and Les Claypool cited Frank Zappa and Chris Squire (of Yes) as heroes. Whatever chemical reaction Primus sparked in my brain it’s one that fizzes away to this day.
The oddball caricatures that inhabited the lyrics of ‘Frizzle Fry’ took on a more sinister tone on the follow-up album. Social commentary in ‘Sgt. Baker’ and ‘Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers’ was quirky and funny but hard-hitting. Here came a whole new set of bastards. ‘American Life’’s depiction of the negative experiences of US immigrants sits alongside keenly-observed elucidations of the dark underbelly of Americana. The pervading sense of hallucinogenic claustrophobia is offset by references to farting and wanking in the shower and, of course, basslines that are impossible to hear without moving your tushy.
The Deluxe Edition elevates the album from a period piece to a vital living document. The songs are as relevant now as they were in 1991 and the new mix is simply breath-taking. Claypool’s bass growls at the low end and is rounded-yet-defined at the top. Larry’s conjuring of alien guitar tones is more evident. Herb’s full range of percussive devices dance and sparkle. There are sound effects which I’ve noticed for the first time in twenty years of listening. If you already own this album it’s time to upgrade. If you don’t, it’s essential. “Sailing the Seas of Cheese” has never sucked harder.