Design By Humans
Published On: Wed, Nov 12th, 2014

Primus: Primus & the Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble

Primus & the Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble
(ATO Records)

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Primus’ albums always felt kind of like the soundtracks to twisted children’s movies to me. They’re each more conceptual than a mere collection of songs and while proficient musicians, the band members are known to play with a strong sense of humor and willingness to indulge their most bizarre impulses. Covering the soundtrack to Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory seems like a perfect idea. In places, it works great. “Golden Ticket” goes through the Primus ringer and comes out a fully-formed song that sits nicely amongst the rest of their catalogue. It’s modeled off the original, but they make it eerier as well as make it rock. “Cheer Up Charlie” and “I Want it Now,” which are not the most interesting moments in the movie, are a lot more enjoyable in this context. Much of the rest of the album is a little disappointing though. Primus & the Chocolate Factory marks the first time drummer Tim Alexander has recorded with the band since the 2003 EP, Animals Should Not Try to Act Like People. It’s also the first time the band has augmented their lineup, adding percussionist Mike Dillon and cellist Sam Bass (billed here as the Fungi Ensemble). This exciting group of musicians doesn’t so much cover the Willy Wonka soundtrack as use it as a platform to experiment. Therefore, iconic songs like “Candy Man” and “Pure Imagination” become far-out, atonal jams that are only recognizable through lyrics or snatches of melody here and there. Which makes me wonder; did they really want to make a Zappa-esque , post-rock, post-jazz, record and feel the only way they could sell it was under a familiar banner? In that sense, it’s not a bad album at all, but one wonders what could have been. “Semi-Wondrous Boat Ride” is amazing, raw material that Primus could have done so much with, but ends up as a semi-satisfying avant-garde piece. The Oompa Loompa songs are fun, but brief (as they are in the movie), but they give us a glimpse of where the respective insanity of the film and the band could intertwine. This is by no means a bad album, it just sounded better in my imagination.

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Primus: Primus & the Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble