Not many bands have released albums throughout one decade, skipped one, then returned to release more in the next. But then Primus are no ordinary band. And here they are with their original line-up (frontman Les Claypool, guitarist Larry LaLonde and drummer Tim Alexander) all back together and set to release their first full-length studio set for the first time in nearly 20 years. And their project? A reworking of the 1971 soundtrack that accompanied the original Charlie And The Chocolate Factory film. I titter ye not.
Created as a reaction to the horrors imposed by the ghastly 2005 remake with the $150 million budget, Les turned to the one with the $3 million budget that so defined his youth – “I really wanted to pay homage to the film that was very important to me as a kid and very influential to me musically. And as opposed to going in and recording the songs and playing them the way they are in the film, we twisted them up a bit… we twisted them up a lot“.
It’s very apparent that, whilst dipping into the innocence, joy and colour that so burst out at them from the celluloid screen, Primus have also mastered the more sinister aspects lurking behind the factory and its owner. Of course, the wondrous industrial machines of the film play a part here. In fact, they take the starring role with each track finding its own rhythmic pump, groan and splurge to play along to. Les also uses a variety of voices to graphically narrate the story channelling a range of styles from Mike Patton to Kermit The Frog.
Lurking at the heart of the album, introduced by the, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, four seconds of introductory fanfare that is “Lermaninoff”, are the tracks “Pure Imagination” (with its slowly crescendoing background scales imparting the fear of God into the listener), the “Oompa” variations and “Semi-Wondrous Boat Ride” (complete with gruesome Jaws-esque bow-sawing). Here, they dig into the underlying horror of using temptation as an excuse to abduct kids (no matter how flawed those characters may be) with Les reprising Gene Wilder’s manic, wild-eyed Pied Piper figure. Flashed, suppressed images of beheaded chickens and maggoty corpses will undoubtedly return from your collective memory bank.
“Candyman”, backed by a pained moo-ing setting the rhythm and a nifty rat-a-tat lyrical style, is an odd one, with the majestic howling echoes of “Farewell Wonkites” not far behind. However, the mad ravings of “Wonkmobile” takes the prize for freakiest inclusion. Understandably, the similarity of the four “Oompa” tracks do hold the album back but there are also some songs that feel detached from the overall tone. As an example, the variety of instrumental touches that back “Give It To Me Now” do kick it from the souks of Marrakech to Morricone’s Wild West but as a rule it’s played just too darn straight to fit.
You will recognise the amount of love and thought that has gone into these re-workings and the result really is something the band can be rightly proud of. Alternative in every sense of the word, elegant in places and truly scary in others, Primus’ Chocolate Factory is definitely a place you’ll want to visit. C’mon, Paramount – re-release the film with this soundtrack worked in. Just for shits & giggles?
(John Skibeat 7.5/10)