Funky, Funny and Weird, Par For the Course
Certain things in life require change in some form to arouse the senses. Wine, cheese, and even the occasional film can become better over time. Thankfully for Les Claypool fans, his general approach to music doesnâ€šÃ„Ã´t fall into that category. True, new things have been tried in the two decades since Primus formed. His methods still coupling jaw-dropping bass ability with absurdist sensibilities, he’s as enduring in alternative rock as Sonic Youth. Of Whales and Woe is a continuance of that somewhat disjointed tradition. Claypool almost immediately places his bass front and center throughout the album on “One Better,” with its smooth funk intro that would make Bootsy Collins nod his head in admiration. Claypool then delivers a sly narrative on American superiority complexes with “[Khrushchev] said ‘Hey the Mr. Eisenhower / What do you think of my Sputnik satellite? / Ike reeled his head back / Looked him in the eye ‘That’s a mighty fine satellite’ / But I’m gonna give you one better.” But with the funky good time ensuing here, it’s easy to pass over the lyrics. The aforementioned passage is delivered with charm, but without elaboration or point of view. There are similar happenings in “Vernon the Company Man” with the detailed description of a boring, company-faithful, everyday Joe Schmo for whom, as Claypool puts it, “The Marlboro man dug an early grave,” and the song ends. The right set of listeners could debate the song’s ostensible anti-smoking moral, but the odds are on them hitting ‘next’.
With the album mostly consisting of the dichotomy between the funny and the weird, Claypool’s not afraid to throw in oddities. Here, they show up as the Captain Beefheart-esque “Back Off Turkey” and “Lust Stings.” The former opens the album in dark, ominous fashion with soundscapes perfect for a horror movie, while the latter recalls Zoot Allures-era Frank Zappa with astonishing impeccability.
Of Whales and Woe ends up feeling like interesting ingredients that haven’t been mixed together. While positives are abundant in the album, after it all, listeners could end up thinking that Les Claypool has delivered a sum to which all the parts donâ€šÃ„Ã´t add up.