It’s always a wonder when extraordinary talents fail in spite of themselves. Had it been a spectacular failure, there might be a reason to revisit the seven often bland tracks I’d just managed to trudge through. But, Primus’ ninth studio album, The Desaturating Seven, turns out to be a bore. Considering that Les Claypool, Primus’ eccentric genius, has a lengthy history of producing complex, esoteric, and thoughtful works of a caliber equivalent to the likes of Frank Zappa’s Freak Out! or Hot Rats, boredom is not what one would expect. Confusion? Sure. Boredom? No. On this outing, an obscure children’s book, The Rainbow Goblins, provides Claypool and company with a magically dark theme, a seemingly perfect pairing of artists and inspiration. In Primus’ execution, however, the effort is a wasted opportunity.
Claypool (who is credited as producer, engineer, lyricist, and composer) is joined by Larry Lalonde and Tim Alexander–the same line-up that fashioned, arguably, the band’s best series of albums: Frizzle Fry, Sailing the Seas of Cheese, Pork Soda, and Tales from the Punchbowl. Listening to this latest release, it is clear Primus is as capable a group of musicians as they ever were–weaving and meshing discordant melodies with impossible time signatures, fashioning together a magical sonic world of terrifying morbidity and staggering beauty. It’s a valiant effort. They just can’t seem to control the monster they’ve created.
The album is too uncertain of itself. I was always waiting to become fully invested in The Desaturating Seven, to enter its world, but Claypool’s vision never quite filled in the edges of painting. It really wants to do something spectacular but, unlike Zappa, never seems brave enough to step fully into its own abyss.
Not all is lost, though. The titular track, The Seven, is brilliant and embodies everything the rest of the album should have been–brave but meaningful aesthetic shifts, lyrical composition rich in metaphor, devastating rhythmic attack. It’s a masterpiece. Similarly, The Scheme is as perfect and tightly structured a tune as anything Primus has ever recorded. I could listen to that song a thousand times; unfortunately, the rest of tracks probably won’t get ten spins. The Valley, which opens the set, could have powerfully introduced the surreal narrative of TDS. Instead, an otherwise interesting bit of music is smothered by an overacted voiceover, one that is emotionally and conceptually detached from its musical backdrop. The simple choice to ‘talk’ rather than ‘sing’ the prologue utterly unravels the minstrel-esque character struggling to shine through. This type of failure happens again and again, producing a meandering work that is unaware of its own intentions, of its own destination, and so never arrives.
I will not say The Desaturating Seven is an uninteresting release by the trio. I don’t believe Primus could create anything ‘uninteresting’ even if they intended to do just that. Its problem lies in its own uncertainty. It draws from a fable steeped in gluttony and the grotesque but hesitates and holds back. It cannot decide whether to commit to its source material or tell its own story. It never chooses, and as a result, it is ultimately silent. Forgettable. As Les sang, “Don’t lose heart comrades, Paradise is just over that hill,” I, like the goblin protagonists, wondered if I’d ever arrive. No. We never did.