Sailing the Seas of Cheese, by Primus
Reviewed by Stuart Emerson
Primus. Of all the bands I know of with Latin names, I can confirm that they are first. I have a bit of a rocky relationship with them – I detest their most famous song, about Wynona and her rodent of unusual size. I probably know other Primus songs, but I suspect that compilations would be where I had encountered and ignored any other tracks. My dislike of Wynona meant I never pursued them, so this will be my first voyage into the murky waters of a Primus album.
Skimming the tracklist, Sailing the Seas of Cheese, which is their second long-player, contains Jerry was a Race Car Driver, the only other Primus song I could name. As it is a track that I actually quite like, and the album precedes Wynona by several years, I went into this hopeful.
My hope did not last long. The initial and titular track was half comedy-novelty, and cacophony, and I was grateful it was over in under a minute. Maybe, I thought, maybe that’s just an outlier, and the rest of the album is better. I hadn’t finished the thought before I was proved wrong.
The second track Here Come the Bastards, sounded like, well, mediocre 90’s alt rock. Heavily bass-led rock is not to everyone’s tastes, but I am usually at least sympathetic to it. Not this – it reminded me of some of the worst bits of the seventies. Tracks three and four are no better. I really want to like it; vocally, Les Claypool reminds me a bit of Jello Biafra – that is, he is distinctive in a way that is going to strongly divide opinion. Fortunately, I can live with his ‘unique’ style – but these discordant howls would grate nerves even if sung by Michael Buble.
It isn’t long before Jerry arrives to save my ears, in his Race Car. It’s a brief respite from the misery. After what feels like an age, I’m six tracks in, and only one I would choose to ever hear again.
However, when Is it Luck, the 7th track, arrives, the album starts sounding more like music I like. There were rhythmic nods to early FNM, and at times the vocals reminded me of the (far superior) Gibby Haynes. Tommy the Cat would have fitted in on a Revolting Cocks album (or at a push, Angel Dust – it reminded me strongly of Crack Hitler), and towards the end, actually sounds familiar. After the (thankfully) brief Sathington Waltz, I find myself concerned. We only have three tracks left, but nothing so far has topped four and a half minutes, and there are more than fifteen minutes left. Wikipedia gives me the bad news. There is a seven-minute plus monster coming down the pipe. Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers (my stand-out track) gave me some hope, though. Like most tracks, a thumping beat drives it, but at a tempo that made my feat tap, and with a more conventional verse-chorus structure than some of the earlier tracks. The vocals were more Ka-Spel than Biafra, which helped.
So far, an album very much of two halves. Eight tracks long enough to matter so far – four of them curling tentacle-like around my brain, the other four beating me about the ears. If the swollen head that is Fish On appeals, we probably have enough to give this magnificent octopus a passable score. If not, it’s unlikely that two and a half minutes of Los Bastardoswill save it from the briny depths.
Fish On (Fisherman Chronicles, Chapter II) has two distinct personalities. One plods along, and one that runs in, skips and bounces around like a bass maniac, and is gone in a flash. Fortunately, I don’t mind either. I don’t know whether it is Stockholm Syndrome, whether my palate for bass-driven 90’s rock needed some warming up, but I’m disposed to think kindlier about this endeavour than I did forty minutes ago. Perhaps that explains why I was actually disappointed that the final track was a reprise of the second. I had hoped for more, and been denied. Not even Rik Mayall’s fleeting appearance could raise my spirits.
For all my initial negativity, I give Sailing the Seas of Cheese a strong 6 (Halloumi, bordering Gouda). If I could strip out 2 or 3 tracks, It would be an album that I wouldn’t listen to often, but would probably remember more fondly, and I think had I listened to it in my late teens/early twenties, I would still have a soft spot for it.