It’s sad that we live in an era where greedy goblins robbing the world of beauty can be seen as social critique.
Les Claypool’s lifelong obsession with Willy Wonka yielded the 2014 cover album Primus & the Chocolate Factory, which saw the return of longtime drummer Tim Alexander. For their first original album with their classic lineup since 1995’s Tales from the Punchbowl, Primus again draws inspiration from a children’s book. The themes of greed and gluttony that are so pervasive in that Roald Dahl classic are revisited by Claypool on The Desaturating Seven, a slight, half-baked concept album that spans less than 35 minutes and yet—despite some glimmers of prime Primus with the band’s core trio intact—still manages to wear out its welcome.
Based on The Rainbow Goblins by Italian author and illustrator Ul de Rico, The Desaturating Seven spins an oddball tale about a septet of color-gobbling goblins whose ravenous rainbow-lust threatens to leave the world drab and grey. In terms of surreal fairy-tale imagery, nothing on this album quite reaches the bizarre randomness of the Flaming Lips’ “There Should Be Unicorns” from earlier this year, and the album’s source material, though somewhat intriguing, doesn’t provide especially fecund ground for Primus’s bonkers songwriting sensibilities, either.
Claypool’s cartoonish carnival barker shtick begins to grate on “The Seven,” as he runs through the Roy G. Biv color spectrum. But chances are anyone that cues up this record knows what they’re in for, and while such outsized performance antics fit better with the band’s more nonsensical, tongue-in-cheek creations (“Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver” comes to mind) than with something as relatively run-of-the-mill as goblins, there’s a nostalgic pleasure in hearing this track lurch and churn like something off Sailing the Seas of Cheese.
In that vein, “The Storm” is by far the most “classic Primus” song on this album, Claypool’s dynamic bass thrumming with an ominous simmer, Alexander’s drums rumbling and guitarist Larry LaLonde adding unsettling minor notes that propel the nearly eight-minute track along as a lumbering behemoth that’s as enthralling as anything the band has recorded since the ‘90s. At the other end of the spectrum is the oddly folky “The Trek,” a track that, despite some stark shifts in time signature, underwhelms musically with its meandering quality; it ends up feeling like a haphazard mashup of “Southbound Pachyderm” and “My Name Is Mud.”
It’s sad that we live in an era where greedy, powerful goblins robbing the world of beauty can be seen as social critique. As Claypool sings of the multi-colored monsters, “With the grandeur of the world, they abuse and defile it,” it’s easy to draw parallels to a certain orange menace who cares only about green. But The Desaturating Seven isn’t sophisticated enough for compelling commentary, however tangentially. Nothing here feels fleshed-out enough for a full album, and it’s perplexing why the band didn’t just keep this as an EP. Especially after drawing upon similar themes from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory for Primus’s last release, Claypool seems to be running on empty from a lyrical standpoint, even if, musically, this latest album occasionally recalls the band’s heyday in a few juicy but all-too-fleeting moments.