Yeah, Primus Sucks. There are bumper stickers, T-shirts, even www.primussucks.com to support this stupid battle cry, and the band could suck harder than an atomic horse leech before some of its longstanding faithful would bitch about it. Just be forewarned, hardcore believers: There's very little fresh or surprising to rejoice about on AntiPop, the Bay Area prog-punk trio's seventh full-length CD to date. You'll find the usual breakneck tempos, bass-slapping monsterisms, bratty-ass scatological lyrics and cheerful pretensions of Seventies art metal. But who gives a rat's patsy? Such formulaic hijinx have always been the band's bread and marmalade. Why settle for more?
When frontman Les Claypool resorts to Hollywood Squares-style celebrity cameos -- employing South Park's co-creator Matt Stone and Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst among countless others -- to get his Primal vision across, one can assume that, idea-wise, the bass dude's cruisin' on fumes. James Hetfield of Metallica (for whom Claypool once auditioned) lends a few crunchy guitar licks to this bloated charade. Ex-Police drummer Stewart Copeland keeps functional time in spots, and Martina Topley Bird of Tricky fame spouts off from the ethereal periphery. Even national treasure Tom Waits plays mellotron and sings on "Coattails of a Dead Man [267K aiff]" -- no doubt returning the favor for Claypool's guest appearance on Mule Variations. Too bad the skeletal waltz comes off as embarrassing filler, some throwaway chunk of Swordfishtrombones with freezer burn.
This underwhelming blast of plain, adolescent obnoxiousness reeks of big-money desperation. It adds up to little more than a circle jerk for skate thrashers -- which has, in the past, always been the selling point of Primus. Still, the album's title offers an empty promise of something different -- say, white-noise variations, chainsaws grinding through sheet metal, anything. If pop music's function is to opiate the childish masses, after all, AntiPop's might be to get those kiddie sleepwalkers to wake the hell up.
Keep dreamin', Morpheus. AntiPop is just more predictable slop headed for FM rotation, beginning with " Electric Uncle Sam [259K aiff]," a fist-pumping anthem that finds Claypool sounding like a spent "Weird" Al. Fans of King Crimson and Frank Zappa should prog for sustenance elsewhere or grimace their way through the idiotic, Durst-produced "Laquerhead" and the insipid "Mama Didn't Raise No Fool" before acknowledging the obvious: This here mess ain't exactly a wank for the ages. "Power Mad" denigrates Kosovo into a historical cartoon, while " Eclectic Electric [256K aiff]" steals shamelessly from Pink Floyd's The Wall. Claypool's heist of a grubby, bog-dwelling persona attempts to emulate Roger Waters's pudding-for-meat spiel with his own long-winded advice to babies: Don't stare into the sun. Thanks, dude. The babies are grateful -- including my inner catatonic child. -- John La Briola
The musical swingers out there probably won't be down with this platter, for the simple reason that it sounds so dated. In fact, throw a cover of "Parchment Farm" or "Louie, Louie" on here, and the average trend-hopper would probably mistake Whatcha' Doin' for one of their parent's old LPs. Which is just fine, really, because the Go is about as interested in creating new sounds as the Ramones were twenty years ago, and the Music Machine twenty years before that, and Willie Dixon twenty years before that. In other words, the band could give two shits about whether it's featured on Spin's Hit List or not. Rather, these Detroit-based roughnecks are merely interested in crafting pure, nearly perfect gut-bucket rock and roll -- and with Doin', they've succeeded. Of course, being from Detroit Rock City, comparisons to the MC5 and the Stooges are inevitable, and admittedly, you'll find elements of both buried in the disc's twelve tracks. But unlike most of the Motor City boosters on the scene right now (and there are plenty of them), these guys have actually taken the time to listen to their idols. Go guitarist John White, in particular, seems to have a real hard-on for James Williamson's corrosive guitar leads. And singer Bobby Harlowe's white-boy soul squawk is right up there with the late, great Rob Tyner's. The sonic scrap heap the combo pulls from doesn't end there, either: By record's end, T-Rex ("Summer Sun Blues [237K aiff]"), the Velvet Underground ("You Can Get High"), the Heartbreakers ("But You Don't Know") and even David Bowie (" Keep On Trash [240K aiff]") get the nod in this cornucopia of rock and roll. And if it's all been done before, so be it. There are plenty of Aphex Twin discs out there for the, ahem, thrill-seekers. But if you're looking for a timeless grassroots party record, you owe it to yourself to give this a whirl. -- Brad Jones
At the Drive In
The supercharged energy of At the Drive In's second release, Vaya, can make you feel like a spackled june bug on the windshield of an eighteen-wheeler negotiating a mountain pass. The changes on this release are as sharp and quick as curves on a switchback -- and after recovering from one, you have a fraction of a second to assess the situation before heading toward the next bend.
Combining the short-circuited style of what's best in early D.C. hardcore and the guitar aesthetic of indie rock, the El Paso five-piece creates an orchestrated collage of the two genres. Fueled by a racing-octane tempo, "Raschuache" opens the disc by meshing off-time signatures and 4/4. The sound is augmented by scrappy guitars and an occasional thunder boom provided by Tony on drums (each bandmember is identified by first name only). "Proxima Centauri [232K aiff]" pounds steadily until the chorus slips into a sonic seizure, then recovers briskly with a stable, graceful verse. Although At the Drive In occasionally veers out of control, sanitized guitar work and a polished discord always steer it back; there's a melodic cohesion here rarely found in an underground band. The result is like a tasty poison or a shape-shifting mass of pretty pollution.
The lyrics on Vaya can prove equally difficult to navigate. Metaphors linger like smoke sealed in a stopped truck, their meanings as indiscernible as the garbled audio of a dangling soundbox at an actual drive-in. "Taking rations from the ballot box, cursing like sweet tarts/Increase the dosage, count back from ten/And it was written in capital faunt," asserts vocalist/guitarist Cedric on " Heliotrope [232K aiff]." Who knows what it means, but at least it's not riddled with the righteousness or self-indulgence that plagued the D.C. scene and continues in so much of indie rock. Taken individually, pieces of this automatic writing style are intriguing and picturesque; as a whole, though, the stream of consciousness lacks much solid structure.
Vaya's genealogy may be easily traced, but its diversity and sophistication suggest that At the Drive In has overcome the deficits of its predecessors. The band has appropriated the energy and charisma of its roots while wisely leaving the baggage behind. -- Mike Engstrom
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
In 1994, Def Jam was in the enviable position of simultaneously releasing two of the most anticipated debut hip-hop albums that year: Redman's completely insane Whut? Thee Album and -- coming straight off of the Wu Tang Clan's seminal first LP -- Method Man's solo debut, Tical. The comparisons between the two MCs extended far beyond the similarity of their names: Both had an image of being dangerous, crotch-grabbing street thugs whose passion for smoking weed made the members of Cypress Hill look like recreational users. More important, their rhyming skills took rap phrasing and wordplay to creative new heights. Rumors of a joint project between the two, bolstered by their collaborative hit single "How High," from the 1995 Def Jam concert film The Show, had been rampant for years. But it wasn't until their show-stealing performance together on this year's brain-dead Hard Knock Life Tour that an official announcement was made. Blackout was destined to be the ultimate hardcore hip-hop record, the one that would snap every neck from the city of Compton to the slums of Shaolin. So it has to be asked: What the fuck happened?
The majority of this album comes in dead on arrival. The opening sixty seconds [198K aiff] pretty much sum up the listening experience to follow: In a weed-soaked voice, Redman asks, "Do you want to get high, man?" to which Meth growls back, "Does Pinocchio have wooden balls, man?" While neither MC has been noted for his incredible, ahem, wisdom, the feeling of been there, done that is overwhelming on this release. Marijuana, guns and testosterone-born bravado might still move massive quantities of records out in the suburbs, but damn if they aren't the lowest common denominator hip-hop has to offer in 1999. Take, for instance, the song " Cereal Killer [256K aiff]," which has both men visualizing themselves as murder maniacs, with stunningly inane lyrics like "Murder, murder, murder/Kill, kill, kill/Take nuts and screws out of Ferris wheels" and ending with the sound of a woman screaming as a machete hacks away. Forget the subject matter -- these rhymes just plain stink.
As is the case in all of their previous efforts, this thuggery dreck would be somewhat forgivable if the shit rocked, but this time the beats are incredibly dull. The finger could be pointed at producer Erick Sermon of E.P.M.D. fame, whose nine out of seventeen tracks lack any menace or funk and are completely indistinguishable from one another. The two tracks from Wu mastermind RZA feel like reject-drawer material as well -- a characteristic that's plagued all of the Wu product released this year. There are a handful of numbers, like the title track, that are fun and will grow on a listener after a while. But considering the talent inherent in all of the players involved, this is one of the biggest disappointments of the year. Let's hope that Meth puts down the pipe for a month or so before releasing his next solo joint in January. In the meantime, those interested in something real are advised to go pick up the new Mos Def record. Even after you smoke copious amounts of weed, this album will still suck. -- Kevin Crouse