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One year after erstwhile Primus leader Les Claypool reemerged as the leader of the jammy Les Claypool's Flying Frog Brigade, the bass wrangler throws another curve. With Purple Onion, Claypool reigns in much of the free-floating improvisation of FFB's initial releases in favor of something more akin to a proper Primus album, complete with bizarre comic voices, eccentric scenarios, and funky interludes. But this isn't a true Primus album, since there are absolutely no seafaring references on any of the 12 songs. In fact, many of the numbers are less songs than loosely connected chapters of a concept album somewhat akin to Alice Cooper's grim 1975 classic, Welcome to My Nightmare. But instead of Cooper's disturbed Steven, Claypool chronicles David Makalster, "a 10 o'clock newscaster" whose broadcasts of doom are worthy of Frank Zappa in his prime. Claypool here demonstrates that he has the daring to take Pink Floyd's excesses and fuse them with his own nerdy paranoia to create a singular album. --Jaan Uhelszki
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I say best in terms of melody because this album shows Claypool unleashed from the guitar-bass-drums constraints that came with Primus (not to say that Primus is bad; I actually love Primus but I love diversity of instruments more). In addition to Claypool's usual bass guitar, upright bass and whamola there are drums, marimbas, vibes, guitars, banjos, violins, violas, and cellos all making appearances. It's an absolutely engrossing album just for that sake alone because of all the different layers of instruments used.
But even better than the instruments is the lyrical content. There is some mild profanity, but the topics of most songs are meant to make you think or to really notice the irony of a situation. The first example is track number 2, David Makalaster, written from the perspective of a news anchor who does his once-over-lightly on serious topics and then moves on, with the whole song pointing out that caring about what you hear in the news is not nearly as important or useful as actually doing something about what you hear in the news. Another excellent example is Ding Dang, a song meant to condemn hateful slurs and remarks--he uses some of them in the lyrics but always to prove his point, which is that society's problems are created by society and all those who insist on alienating those who are even only mildly different from the mainstream.
If that sounds too serious for your taste, don't worry. You have track 3, Buzzards of Green Hill, a good jam tune where just the beat from the lyrics could work as a solid rhythm section. Then you have D's Diner, panegyric of one of Claypool's favorite restaurants, and the very final track Cosmic Highway which tells the story of a family's vacation in outer space from the perspective of the child.
This album stands out among Claypool's work, and anyone who wants to claim Claypool fan-ship needs to get it, or at least listen to the tracks a few times.
Les, as usual, is king of the hill and anyone with a true musical bone in their body can, and will appreiciate this collection of joyful toons. The sense of humour is abundant - it even sounds a little Mr Bungle-y. Awesome.
Gotta love the Frog Brigade. Even if Primus are no more.
Where to start? Well, how about "David Makalaster", the ten o'clock newscaster, who reminds us that "anarchy is back in style"? Or, perhaps, "Whamola" - which I like to think of as Les' cautionary tale about conformity, though the song is almost without lyrics! "Buzzards of Green Hill", "Long in the Tooth", "Ding Dang" and the closer "Cosmic Highway" are all outstanding tracks. The rest of the songs are...um...merely good.
I don't always know what Les is getting at, but I'm up for going along for the ride.