Sound — 9
Musical experimentation has been taken to a new level since Primus released its first major label album in 1990, and the band's chronology of fearlessness comes across effectively in They Can't All Be Zingers: The Best Of Primus. The latest CD, a collection of singles from throughout Primus' career, conveys the band's defiance of the standard Top 40 song format beautifully. It is exactly that free-form style that has lured steadfast fans over the years, and newer listeners can expect to be pleasingly perplexed by their first listen to They Can't All Be Zingers. Primus has never been mainstream, which is likely due to the complex and unusual approach to songwriting. Bassist/vocalist Les Claypool defines the Primus sound, and he is one of the few rock bassists today that can immediately be identified by any line that he plays. While guitarist Larry LaLonde, drummer Tim Alexander, and other past members have added significant elements to Primus songs, it is Claypool that has shaped the core of the Primus sound and it comes out full-force in the singles collection. That sound can be heavy on the ears at times if you're not used to a dominant bass line, but the style is one that is captivating regardless if you are a diehard Primus fan or not. It's a fun trip back to the past with songs like John The Fisherman and Jerry Was A Race Car Driver, two songs that had a heavy presence on MTV in the early '90s. These songs had more of a traditional single format -- with a repetition that allowed listeners to know what they might expect next -- and new fans will likely find these tracks a bit more palatable that some other offerings on They Can't All Be Zingers. The songs do represent that band at its best, with its ability to keep a set melody but at the same time featuring funk exploration. Mr. Krinkle is an eerie little tune from the Pork Soda CD and is a fascinating listen for the most part. It has the consistent groove that comes to be expected from Primus tunes, but it does lack an energy that many of other tracks possess on the disk. Even with a few imperfections, there is a fantastic guitar solo from Larry LaLonde that makes the song absolutely worth the listen. DMV, which was also released on the album Pork Soda, is quite similar to Mr. Krinkle in that it has the same laid-back feel where everything just feels a bit lower-key. It's not that the Pork Soda tracks aren't intriguing, but they don't hold up quite as strongly as the singles from other albums.
Lyrics — 9
If you are prone to thinking Primus' music is a bit odd, the lyrics won't do much to change that opinion. Of course, one man's oddity is another man's genius. While there are plenty of bands out there writing about heartache and nonconformity, Primus offers up songs about puppies, fishermen, and an ice cube named Mary. The unusual lyrics actually fit perfectly with Claypool's off-beat delivery and make the songs all the more interesting. In Wynona's Big Brown Beaver, Claypool allows the title alone to plant dirty little thoughts in your mind. He sings, Wynona's got herself a big brown beaver; And she shows it off to all her friends; One day, you know, that beaver tried to leave her; So she caged him up with cyclone fence. The song does its best to not be quite as blatant as you'd think, and at times you might even begin to think Claypool might just be goofy enough to talk about a rodent rather than what you would assume. There are little tales that are told within Primus' songs that give them a unique entertainment value that you might find reading one of your favorite childhood books. The best example is in Tommy The Cat, in which Tom Waits is heard in most of the vocals. Waits takes the role of the title feline and describes his frisky story through much of the song with lines like, Not even a muscle in her neck did twitch as she sauntered up into the heart of the alley; She knew what she wanted; She was lookin' for that stud bull, the he cat; And that was me. The unusual perspective of a cat is just one of the plusses that you'll find in a Primus song. Of course, if you're a fan of the traditional love song, a tune about a feisty cat will probably leave you a little cold.
Overall Impression — 9
Primus does almost feel like a jazz band at times in that Claypool and his fellow players have an astounding knowledge of their instruments. This level of competency in turn allows them to kind of go wild with their playing that a lot of bands just aren't able to do. While not all the songs are going to be songs that you find yourself humming because of their abstract approach, it's fascinating to hear the different twists and turns that each song takes. The uninhibited nature of Primus could scare off those who aren't used to unorthodox players, but the CD should be a must-listen to fans of musicians that think outside the box. If you're looking for a little something different and you already have the full Mike Patton library, Primus' They Can't All Be Zingers will not disappoint.