Back with their first original album since 2011’s Green Naugahyde, as well as the return of drummer Tim Alexander, Primus released The Desaturating Seven last September. The LP draws its inspiration from the beautifully bizarre 1978 children’s book The Rainbow Goblins; a book that could have been easily transformed into an old-school Disney classic.
Compared to previous albums, The Desaturating Seven is by far the easiest of the group’s nine albums to digest as a whole. While drastically different from 1995’s Tales From The Punchbowl, Primus’ last release with this lineup, the group was able to draw from decades of former sounds, while also managing to reinvent their sound in a delightfully cunning way.
Les Claypool, the band’s lead vocalist, bassist and songwriter was introduced to the book by his wife “many, many years ago,” and the books vibrant, intense colors and somewhat creepy vibe made it frontrunner for a future project. The lore speaks of seven creatures of various colors who try to hunt rainbows but end up drowning and never again do rainbows touch the Earth. The book is perfect material for an album, but taking a children’s story and turning it into a musical masterpiece is no easy feat. However, Les and Company did it by creating political undertones within the lyrics, surrounded by darkly spectacular funk-rock only Primus can provide.
The album begins with “The Valley”, a soft introduction with acoustic guitars and a spoken word by the Goblin King – aka Justin Chancellor, bassist of Tool. The 3/4 waltz is an uncomfortable melody that would fit in a French horror film. It’s fun and ominous, and leaves you in anticipation of what this dark tale holds. As “The Valley” transitions into “The Seven”, faint scratches are heard. It’s just a theory, but I think it could be a nod to the transposition of the artwork in the book, which was so carefully rendered from the original panoramic paintings that the wood grain can be seen on the pages.
We meet our group of goblins in “The Seven”, but are also taken back to some familiar Primus roots. Starting in a staccato march, we learn about the goblins before evolving into the 7/8 chorus that is some of the most memorable instrumentation of the album. Both the guitar and bass focus for your attention until the end.
Beginning with a flamenco-style guitar that puts the listener in an almost dream-like ease, “The Trek”, an aptly named song about the goblins’ woeful journey through the dreaded mountains to the longed Rainbow Valley. That ease is abruptly ended, as the driving bass melody plays off rhythmically contrasting guitars until they find a steady groove at the chorus. The recurring “verse” rhythm pattern is striking, and reminded me of “The Apartment” by Giorgio Moroder.
“The Dream” is the most ethereal song of the album. It essentially is just noise for most of the song; with loose guitar and bass over a looped noise. The lyrics give the song substance in relation to the story, and the drums come in for the last 90 seconds to tie the song together and drive it forward, giving it some shape. While this song may seem unnecessary, it’s the deranged side of psychedelic Primus that can make a listener think beyond the first listen.
The metaphors of the original fable warn of the seven deadly sins, particularly that of greed, gluttony and deceit. When it came to The Desaturating Seven, it seemed like there were an endless amount of opportunities double entendre into his lyrics. His transformative lyrics are a subtly profound look into Claypool’s views of the current political environment. “Enamoring the masses is less than wise / For the most successful schemers / Tell the most colossal lies” from “The Scheme” paint a detailed picture of secondary subject matter while “The Seven” sheds more light: “With the grandeur of the world / They abuse and defile it.”
As a band that spans three decades and even more genres, to release something not only original, but intriguing is a feat. Bringing back the lineup brought back a whole lot more to Primus who seemed to not only revert to a time that was musically revered by their fans, but to also evolve musically and challenge themselves while making a statement. Even those who may not have given Primus a second thought may want to think again.