Rating:Primus has always been one of those groups for whom the designation “cult favorite” was invented. Oddities even by alternative rock standards, their trademark blend of astounding technical proficiency and sheer bizarreness has garnered them the unrequited love of weirdoes and the weird at heart for over two decades. Between providing the theme song to “South Park” and being name-checked in the very first line of Eminem’s breakout single, “My Name Is,” Primus has an especially unique sort of fame. For the Primus-curious, there’s no better place to start than their magnum opus, Sailing the Seas of Cheese, which has just been remastered and sounds better than ever.
Like most remasters, it’s understandable going into the re-release with some level of skepticism. For an album that sounded so quirky in 1991, an over-produced glossy shine risks killing a bit of the gritty mystique that made initially stumbling upon it at the record store such a trip. Primus’ eccentric leader, Les Claypool, has stated he didn’t want to mess with the album too much, mostly just removing the dated reverbs which, due to limitations at the time, sounded syrupy. Lucky for us, the clean remaster makes the album’s creepiness much more apparent.
Twenty years ago, the backing of Interscope helped Sailing the Seas of Cheese to go gold, and, hearing the new remaster, it’s all the more shocking that these songs landed on mainstream rock radio. “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver” still snaps and snarls, and even the generation who grew up knowing this song as the weird track from “Tony Hawk’s Pro-Skater” will have an appreciation for how tightly Claypool channels his staccatos through his electric bass. For a band that’s been often misunderstood by critics as a bunch of goofs looking for an excuse to jam, the crystal clear sound of the remaster allows the listener to pinpoint how thought-out every second of this record is. From the Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 sample to the crescendoing sneer in “Tommy the Cat” to the foreboding haunting paranoia of “Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers,” Sailing the Seas of Cheese shows off a hyper-creative band at the height of their abilities and resources delivering the album they were made to make.
Along with the album sounding better overall, the included bonus material helps convey the very essence of Primus. The live versions of “Those Damned Blue Collar Tweekers” and “American Life” display all the ingenious variety of new ways the group manages to trick out their most beloved material. It was precisely that extension of Primus that lead to their career defining performance at Woodstock ’94, and hearing equally potent live versions here makes this iteration of the album quite possibly the most essential piece in the Primus catalog. A record that would sound just as at-home in a mosh pit or around a campfire, this remaster is the definitive answer to the question that’s plagued rock listeners for years: “Who exactly is Primus?”