Les Claypool, "Of Whales and Woe"
As the driving force behind the now-defunct alt-rock band Primus, Les Claypool's unique brand of lyrical absurdity and off-kilter musicality won him a sizable cult following throughout the '90s. Primus' post-millennial output has slowed considerably, but Claypool has kept busy as the bass virtuoso of choice for sonic explorers like Tom Waits and Trey Anastasio. This week brings the release of "Of Whales and Woe" -- the first album credited solely to Claypool.
The willingness to join Claypool as he careens from idea to idea seemed to dictate the critical response to "Whales." Rolling Stone (2.5 stars) opted out, remarking that the "fat bass lines, shouted, impressionistic poetry, and random instrumental blurts" don't make up for an album full of "discombobulated tunes" that "feels all over the place."
Other critics were more willing to accede to Claypool's whims, with the Montreal Mirror (8 out of 10), praising "Whales" as a "silly, yet musically complex album." The normally staid Billboard even went so far as to applaud the album's catchiness, describing the music as being "less avant-garde than (Claypool's) usual ramblings."
It's normally safe to assume that music this quirky would find its greatest acclaim on the Web, but "Whales" received a mixed online reaction. Aversion.com (three out of five stars) wasn't sure if the "slap-happy bass figures that dominate every aspect of [the album] are the pinnacle of bass-guitar virtuosity or an unusually annoying demonstration of high-powered technique overpowering the basics of rhythm and melody." Smother.net went the other direction, citing the album as "witty and extremely different."
Peeping Tom, "Peeping Tom"
Les Claypool isn't the only alternative icon resurfacing with a new release: Former Faith No More frontman Mike Patton is back, this time under the guise of Peeping Tom. Using the trip-hop sound of the mid-'90s as a starting point, Patton has enlisted the aid of mainstream stars like Norah Jones and underground legends like Kool Keith in creating what Time Out New York describes as "an intricate exposition of catchy melodies and hooks atop distorted instrumentation and trip-hop beats."
But unlike Claypool, it seems that Patton may be guilty of falling behind the curve. At least, that's how the Boston Phoenix heard things: "[The record] has already been made this year by someone else called Gnarls Barkley; the concept [Patton's] courting has been done better over the past few years by a group you may have heard of called Gorillaz."
The New York Times also detected some stagnation setting in on this "bloodless" album, saying Patton is better off when "playing the crazy man at the back of the bus."
While "Peeping Tom" may not be Patton's best, it has something going for it that's awfully hard to resist. I'll leave it to the Orlando Weekly to explain: "[Peeping Tom] may be the only album you buy this week that has Norah Jones breathily rap-singing lyrics like, 'The truth kinda hurts, don't it, motherfucker.'" How can you pass that up?
-- David Marchese