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Twenty-Five Years Later: Primus – Pork Soda

Pork Soda isn’t Primus’s heaviest or most aggressive album, but it has been recognized as their darkest outing since its 1993 release. Something always seemed “off” about the alt funk trio despite their upbeat singles and goofy image, and that subtext became text on their third full-length album. It’s enough to make one wonder if the surprise success of 1991’s Sailing the Seas of Cheese was enough to drive out the madness that had always been lurking just an inch shy of the surface…

The shift can be immediately seen in the album’s lyrical content. Themes of social commentary and personal follies have long run rampant in Primus’s work, but they were never this emotionally charged. It may be due to the narrative shift from third to first person as the goofy rednecks from “Those Damned Blue Collar Tweekers” become much more unsettling when one is talking to you on “My Name Is Mud.” Even the sillier lyrics like “DMV” and “Nature Boy” have a sense of urgent desperation when hearing the tales directly from their protagonists’ mouths.

Even if you don’t pay attention to lyrics, the music composition reflects a more ominous vision. The songs are still structured around intricately jammed out riffs, but the band’s choices in tunings and keys result in more uncanny melodies than usual. You’ll find plenty of catchy riffs and bouncy grooves on “Bob” and “Mr. Krinkle” among others, but you’ll find just as many hauntingly dissonant leads surrounding them.

Ironically enough, what really makes Pork Soda interesting is how the band dynamic is identical to any other Primus album. Ler LaLonde may play a little more banjo than he had before, but his guitar still generally serves as well played window dressing to Les Claypool’s domineering bass work and Herb Alexander’s abstract drumming. The unflinching presentation may make it seem like a dark tone ultimately isn’t that important, but it gets chilling when you consider that Claypool is howling about suicide and murderers in the same goofy drawl that he does about horny felines and fishing trips…

A couple filler tracks keep Pork Soda from being the best Primus album, but it is easily their most unique effort to date. The fact that the album’s more twisted composition choices never threaten the band’s established aesthetic arguably makes them even more unnerving than they’d be otherwise. It’s a very catchy album but one that is seemingly designed to make the listener feel awkward and uncomfortable. Frizzle Fry or Sailing the Seas of Cheese are better introductions to the world of Primus, but Pork Soda makes for a demented subversion once you’ve gotten used to the formula.

“My Name is Mud”
“The Air is Getting Slippery”
“Hamburger Train”

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