ALBUM REVIEW: PRIMUS “PRIMUS & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY…”

primus

Words by: Gerrod Harris

Release Date: October 21st, 2014, via ATO Records

The story of Mr. Wonka and his chocolate factory; first an acclaimed novel, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, written by Roald Dahl in 1964, then adapted for the classic 1971 film of the same name, was later remade as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in 2005, and is now, an album? Yes, Primus has returned, since their 2011 release of Green Naugahyde, with their new album, Primus & the Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble.

                During their New Year’s Eve show in Oakland last year, Primus performed the entire soundtrack from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Les Claypool, being the wonderful weirdo that he is, decided to continue with the Wonka theme by paying tribute to one of his favorite childhood films, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. In an interview, Claypool stated, “I don’t think it was until Jaws came along that I was more obsessed with a film, when I started drawing sharks all over my binders and notebooks. Prior to that it was everything Wonka.”  Primus & the Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble is almost a complete song for song adaptation of the original soundtrack, composed by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newton. With the help of the Fungi Ensemble, consisting of Mike Dillion, who covers a wide variety of percussion instruments, and Sam Bass on the cello, Primus has successfully taken the Wonka sound and turned it on its head, exploring the main themes in a twisted, but fun fashion.  Fans of both Primus and the original film will likely find this album to be a fun listening experience.

The first track, “Hello Wonkites”, is instrumental, with main melody parts being voiced on the cello throughout the piece.  If you listen carefully, you will hear the main theme from original songs, “Golden Ticket” and “Pure Imagination”.  It’s truly brilliant how Claypool has managed to adapt an academy award-nominated score, with classic numbers people are so familiar with, and manage to turn it into his own creation, while remaining true to the original themes and musical ideas.  One of the things I enjoyed most while listening was that you can clearly follow along with the plot of the movie through the songs.  The band didn’t have to write lyrics, as these songs came with them. They did, however, add some lyrics which were originally scripted dialogue.  “Hello Wonkites” serves as an overall introduction to the Wonka theme and concept.  The listeners are quickly thrown in to the song “Candy Man” and “Cheer Up Charlie”, where the lead character, Charlie, is introduced.  The rest of the album follows Charlie’s journey into the chocolate factory, where he meets the Oompa Loompas, as well as an unsavoury cast of characters eventually coming full circle with another instrumental track, “Farewell Wonkites”, a song similar to the opener.  At this point we see the end of Charlie’s adventure, where (spoiler alert) he and his family inherit the chocolate factory as Wonka retires.

Unfortunately, like most albums where the same concept or plot in intertwined with the music, Primus & the Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble needs to be listened to in its entirety.  Many songs on the album seem out of place and less exciting to listen to when taken out of context of the album, or even out of order.  The songs do not stand up as well alone as they do together.  That being said, Primus has done a phenomenal job with adapting this music to suit their own tastes.  They have taken a darker, almost unsettling approach to the theme and they certainly pull it off.  My favorite songs would have to be the less than sane “Golden Ticket”, the war chant-like Oompa Loompa theme heard at the beginning of “Oompa Augustus”, “Oompa Violet” “Oompa Veruca”, and “Ompa TV”, and I love how  in both “Hello Wonkites” and “Farewell Wonkites”, the “Pure Imagination” theme (from the original score) is voiced in a number of different instruments and serves as a calming beginning and ending to counteract the zany mayhem of the rest of the album.

Primus & the Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble is a very enjoyable to listen to, and is just an overall fun experience.  It pulls me in many directions: as a Primus fan, I am reminded of Les Claypool’s unique compositional abilities, as a fan of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, I loved following the story, as well as the twist Primus had added to the original score, and as a composition student, I am absolutely fascinated by how far the band had twisted, turned, yanked, and pushed the limits of the music while keeping it recognizable to the original themes.  The music is often very tribal, driven by the Tim “Herb” Alexander’s drums and Mike Dillon’s percussion.  Larry Lalonde on guitar, and Sam Bass on cello both play very integral parts in creating a sense of atmosphere which is that of a strange world of fantasy.  Claypool’s voice is one of the main story tellers, obviously with the lyrics, but if you are familiar with the original film, you may hear familiar melodies and musical cues in the instrumental parts, which can be as identifying as the lyrics.  To my surprise, Claypool’s bass is not at the forefront of each number.  I suppose he did this for the sake of composition, but when he takes the lead with it, it’s as amazingly played as you would expect.  I would recommend the album to many people, even if it’s not your thing, you’re bound to be impressed with how Primus manipulated and created something entirely new, but familiar. Primus & the Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble is definitely an example of alternative compositional gold.                      

Track Listing

1: Hello Wonkites

2: Candy Man

3: Cheer Up Charlie

4: Golden Ticket

5: Lermaninoff

6: Pure Imagination

7: Oompa Augustus

8: Semi-Wondrous Boat Ride

9: Oompa Violet

10: I Want It Now

11:  Oompa Veruca

12: Wonkmobile

13: Oompa TV

14: Farewell Wonkites

Listen to the album in it’s entirety via YouTube:

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