Drowned in Sound: Primus: "They Can't All Be Zingers"

Drowned in Sound
Primus
"They Can't All Be Zingers"
by Kodi McKinney, DJ at U92
kodimckinney@gmail.com

The most important quality of a greatest-hits album is its accessibility. They are often how younger people get introduced to a band for the first time, and buying such an album is far cheaper than buying a band's entire catalog. Now that Primus finally has a singles disc, They Can't All Be Zingers, potential fans have a way to easily hear the music of a band that was never particularly accessible in the first place.
If you're unacquainted with Primus' sound, be aware that it is wildly unclassifiable. They are comparable to a highly deranged version of Red Hot Chili Peppers with auctioneer-style vocals, supreme musicianship, and songs that are often atonal and catchy simultaneously. Most of their lyrical focus involves humor and cartoon-like characters, though there is the occasional foray into more serious themes. In fact, "Too Many Puppies" somehow manages to be about puppies and war at the same time. Those with a warped sensibility might really enjoy Primus; many others will be left scratching their heads, especially if they listen to music strictly for the vocals.
So how can a less bizarre person really enjoy Primus, anyway? The answer lies in Les Claypool's bass guitar. Exaggeration aside, Claypool is possibly the greatest bass player of all time. This wouldn't matter if the bass were buried in the mix, but Primus makes it the focal point. When Claypool is on, the results are jaw-dropping even to those with little knowledge of the instrument; when he's off, the song goes south fast. "Coattails of a Dead Man," a late-period track that hides the bass a little, is horrible. "Tommy The Cat," on the other hand, is perfect from start to finish and features Claypool's relentless bass work in its full glory.
The least-credited member of Primus, however, would be guitarist Larry LaLonde. Though he took more of a backseat as Primus progressed, LaLonde is a similar virtuoso who pushed Claypool into some magical moments. Their dueling solos on "Tommy The Cat" are part of what makes it so perfect, and "Jerry Was A Race Car Driver" features overt shredding by LaLonde over one of Claypool's best bass lines. The jam band aesthetic is strong with Primus, and it doesn't really diminish even when original drummer Tim Alexander is briefly replaced by Bryan "Brain" Mantia. When every member performs at peak, Primus are nearly unstoppable despite their avant-garde leanings.
Though it's hard to find musical fault with Primus themselves, They Can't All Be Zingers proves its own point at the end of the album. The singles from the last two albums sound like B-sides to the inspired mayhem of the previous 12 tracks, and "Mary The Ice Cube" is chronologically correct but a bad closer. A better choice might have been the South Park theme, written and performed by Primus yet absent from the disc. At any rate, the best of this compilation shines like gold.
Rating: 4 out of 5