Outlandish funk-metal legends, Primus, are back with their ninth studio album The Desaturating Seven – an ode to a popular children’s book about maleficent goblins trying to destroy a rainbow for their own greed. This is the band’s first record of original material since 2011, and the first album of original material by the classic line-up of singer and bassist Les Claypool, guitarist Larry LaLonde and drummer Tim Alexander since 1995’s Tales from a Punchbowl.
Like 2014’s Primus & The Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble, this is a conceptual and experimental album that reimagines a children’s book; a soundtrack with a rich narrative that unfolds with each song. Its inspiration and basis is formed from the popular 1978 book, The Rainbow Goblins, by Italian author and illustrator Ul de Rico. The book is a magnificent technicolour extraordinaire detailing the story of seven wicked goblins, who live off colours. They journey to the Valley of Rainbow and plan to ensnare a mystical rainbow that was ‘more colourful than they ever imagined.’ Primus stay faithful to the story, building an emotive soundscape from which they musically and lyrically narrate the epic tale.
The album begins with ‘The Valley’ which gently sets the scene of the story. The cavernous cello and nurturing acoustic strings in the introduction articulates the opulence of the nature where the story takes place, portraying the richness of the land and creatures that inhabit it. Claypool’s alter ego, Christopher P. Bacon, narrates the story with his bellowing voice, introducing the premise and antagonists of the tale. The song gradually shapes in the ominous bass and drums, that plod mischievous rhythms; the foreshadowing of the marching goblins ploughing through the land.
‘The Seven’ is the theme song of the seven roguish goblins; a prog-funk tune with an enunciated 7/8-timing in the chorus. It’s a very classic Primus composition of a bass-heavy groove, fastened with the smack of drums and electric riffs.
The heart of the story begins with ‘The Trek.’ One of the few almost 8-minute songs on the album, it is a telling of the goblins’ journey to the Valley of Rainbows. The animation of the tempo changes can be a little unnerving in their disjuncture. But the catchy chanting of the chorus, as the goblins descend over the hill to their destination, is contagious – with delectable quavers of guitars.
‘The Scheme’ is a great example of how potently music can tell stories. It perfectly demonstrates the deviance of the goblins evil plan to obliterate the rainbow, with racing patters of drums and bass, draped by Claypool’s sycophantic singing. The song is tumultuous – a flurry of catastrophe.
The whirlwind that is ‘The Dream’ will transport you into reverie. The flicker of guitars and effects at the beginning are beautiful. It’s a trippy, acid-wash escape that moves into odd-timings and an eerie distortion of vocals. The build-up of the thunderous bass and drums submerges you into the chromatic dream of the goblins, and leaves you at the faint beginnings of the storm – the sign of the emergent rainbow.
The Storm’ is the highlight of the album. It traverses the line between music and sound; and creates a discordant ambience. ‘The Storm’ is the climax of the story and the album. It musically describes the ensuring chaos of the goblins attempt to deplete the rainbow of its colours, and their eventual demise. The music begins with the tension of the battle’s prelude, with a heart-racing rhythm of plucking guitars. The attempt to capture the rainbow takes place with a traipsing push-and-pull of musical comeuppance. It then changes pace, into a frenzy of rushing rhythms and rolling beats. The goblins, trapped in a tangled mess of their lassos, are drowned by the colours of the surrounding flowers – represented by a cacophony of vibrant sound and swirling guitars.
The album concludes with the downfall of the goblins in ‘The Ends?’ – a cheeky, victory song for the rainbow. The song ends with order restored once again; a return to the peaceful sounds of nature.
The Desaturating Seven makes for a good soundtrack to an incandescent story – showing how to musically encapsulate the grit and emotion of a narrative. But as an album, it lacks the jam-packed charisma that Primus are renowned for.
The book, The Rainbow Goblin is a lurid tale, full of striking polychromatic illustration and description. This album, while having touches of kaleidoscope moments in songs like ‘The Dream’ and ‘The Storm,’ seems to repress itself from taking this ambitious project to the heights it could have reached. The vocals were too hazy throughout the album, and Tim Alexander on the drums was underutilised. You can feel the intention of where they were wanting to go, but the composition and delivery fall short.
For fans of Primus, The Desaturating Seven is worth a few listens – you hear new elements to unpick each time and does have some envious bass lines. It shows that Primus are as off-kilter as ever, and that they are attempting to expand and develop their sound. However, they miss just short of the mark on this record. Unlike the book from which it is based off – which after almost 40 years has stood the test of time – this album unfortunately will remain undistinguished.