Primus is three decades deep into its career of absurdist funk-rock, and if you don’t “get” the band by now, you never will. That said, Les Claypool and Co. have only grown easier to digest with age. Primus’ last album, 2014’s Primus & The Chocolate Factory With The Fungi Ensemble, was an absurdist reworking of the Willy Wonka score that aptly fused Primus’ sound to a story of an eccentric scientist, candy mushrooms, and pure, unfiltered imagination. On the new The Desaturating Seven—the first full-length of original material in 22 years from the original lineup—Claypool, Larry LaLonde, and Tim Alexander find fertile ground in another, albeit less famous adaptation. And it does so with surprisingly soothing ease, a stark difference from 1995’s Tales From The Punchbowl.
The Desaturating Seven takes its inspiration from Ul De Rico’s colorfully illustrated children’s book The Rainbow Goblins, about mythical creatures who try to snare a rainbow but end up drowning. It’s a fitting subject for Primus’ usual eerie, surreal storytelling—narrated by Claypool’s alter ego, Christopher P. Bacon, across seven songs—but on tracks like “The Trek,” it’s backed by some of the band’s cleanest guitar work, mirroring early Steve Howe, before making way for heavy prog breakdowns. Certainly, on paper, The Desaturating Seven sounds like a conceptual nightmare; it even features Tool bassist Justin Chancellor as “The Goblin Master” in the liner notes. But in addition to being unsettling, it’s a vibrant, knotted work of screwball fun. Anyone who felt overwhelmed by Primus’ early records might be surprised at how comprehensible it all is, even on first listen.
Those who hear echoes of Trump in The Desaturating Seven aren’t projecting. Claypool has said the book’s metaphors about greed, gluttony, and deceit are “eerily relevant,” and the lyrics address a more supernatural evil in a way that mirrors current political movements. “Be leery the fool / That wrangles the rainbows / Filling the landscape with fear,” Claypool sings on quiet acoustic opener “The Valley,” while “The Seven” calls out those who, “With the grandeur of the world / They abuse and defile it.”
Claypool has framed The Desaturating Seven as an album about persistence, stamina, and life—and if ever there were an unlikely candidate for timely protest music, it’s Primus singing about rainbow-obsessed goblins. Still, it gets its message across in surprisingly approachable prog-funk hooks, the kind that might convince even lapsed fans and skeptics to give them a second chance.