Review by Jason Guest
Sometime in 1991, a cassette is handed to me (cheers Cuz!). On side A is Nirvana’s Nevermind; on side B is Primus. Who? The name rings a bell. Sailing the Seas of Cheese? What? Really? Because it’s Nirvana and everyone’s talking about them, Nevermind gets played, the tape is flipped, fast forwarded, flipped and played again. And no matter how many times it’s played, my response is the same: what the fuck am I wasting my time listening to? To this day, Nirvana’s impact has always baffled me; how their bland and ceaseless whinge after whinge stopped metal in its tracks is beyond me. Never mind think I, and just out of curiosity I flip the tape and press play. What’s this, a sea shanty? What the fuck am I listening to now? “Come with us, we’ll sail the seas of cheese.” Really? Next comes the chromatic stomp of heavy power chords coloured with that same cartoon voice singing something about a bunch of bastards on the advance! Did Monty Python put a band together with Frank Zappa and bathe in LSD? What the fuck am I listening to?
Next up is ‘Sgt. Baker’. Meh, not so good. There’s always been one track on their albums – usually near the start – that threatens to drag the entire album down (on 1993’s Pork Soda it’s ‘Bob’; on 1995’s Tales From The Punchbowl it’s ‘Mrs Blaileen’; check the other albums and you’ll see what I mean). It’s always the same on their records but Primus always manage to pull it back and here it’s the hop-skip-jump bass riff of ‘American Life’. This is getting interesting again, and then comes ‘Jerry Was A Race Car Driver’. That’s it. I’m hooked. How the fuck does he make a bass do that? My four-string-thing sat across the room doesn’t sound like that! Then comes the 11/8 bounce of the not-so-imaginatively titled ‘Eleven’ with lyrics lampooning the lunacy of society and the illusion of law and order. ‘Is It Luck?’ is all quirky drums, spiky guitar work and a flailing bass line. Hang on, that’s somebody singing in the shower! What’s he singing about? How farts make him think of someone he loves? What the fuck am I listening to?
Now this sounds familiar. What’s it called? ‘Tommy The Cat’? Oh yeah, this is the song that that band plays in Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey just before Bill and Ted do their bit. And Claypool’s doing something ridiculous with his elastic band bass, again! Now that’s a bass solo! And I will never touch a bass again… well, until I get the nerve to sit down and try to figure out the riff about a week later (and happen to get hold of two guitar magazines with the bass tab for ‘Tommy…’ and ‘Jerry…’; many long nights alone with my instrument did follow). And now they’re playing on kids toys for ‘Sathington Waltz’! Okay, so Les Claypool, Larry Lalonde (he of death metal innovators Possessed no less), and Tim ‘Herb’ Alexander are clearly mental. ‘Those Damned Blue Collar Tweekers’, crazy; nuff said. That bass break in ‘Fish On’, is he fishing with his bass? ‘Los Bastardos’? What the fuck am I listening to? I have to play this again. I flip the tape and fast forward it right through, erm… what was that band called? Oh never mind…
With his new, custom-built Carl Thompson six string fretless bass, Les Claypool’s already unique combination of slapping, tapping, chord strumming, trem-dipping, effect-laden, lunatic bass playing went into overdrive. He stopped everyone dead in their tracks. Tim ‘Herb’ Alexander clearly was – and remains – one of the most overlooked drummers, such are the skills and dexterity he displayed here. And only Larry LaLonde could find a way to bring melody and merriment to the already dense songs. After Sailing the Seas of Cheese, Primus never produced an album to match this for innovation or hilarity. Pork Soda had its moments (‘DMV’ and ‘Hamburger Train’ are classics); Tales From The Punchbowl was good but not great; the same goes for Brown Album and Antipop but the band weren’t blowing on all cylinders by this point and soon put Primus on indefinite hiatus; and 2011’s Green Naugahyde – the band’s first album since 1999 – felt more like a Les Claypool album than a Primus album. Sailing the Seas of Cheese was and still is a great album. The bonus live tracks and the remix of ‘…Bastards’ are a nice addition but not necessary. The cheese may stink a little, but that’s the stench of quality.
8 out of 10
- Seas Of Cheese
- Here Come The Bastards
- Sgt. Baker
- American Life
- Jerry Was A Race Car Driver
- Is It Luck?
- Grandad’s Little Ditty
- Tommy The Cat
- Sathington Waltz
- Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers
- Fish On (Fisherman Chronicles, Chapter II)
- Los Bastardos
- Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers (Live at Bass Hall, Austin, TX – 11/7/12)
- American Life (Live at Bass Hall, Austin, TX – 11/7/12)
- Here Come The Bastards (Bassnectar remix)