Third Man Records vinyl exclusives, Part 53: Primus "The Revenant Juke: A Collection Of Fables And Farce" (2022)

The 53rd set of exclusive vinyl items offered by Third Man Records’ Vault service was mailed out to the members in September of 2022. For those who are unaware, Third Man Records is the label owned by Jack White, who is the leader of the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, and the Dead Weather, and is now a solo artist. The Vault service promises to deliver exclusive vinyl-only records (usually one full-length album and one 7” single) to its subscribers every three months.

The 53rd Vault package contained a boxed set of six 7-inch singles from the '90's alternative band Primus, titled The Revenant Juke: A Collection Of Fables And Farce. This marked the first time that this California-based, bass-dominated band had ever issued their music on 7-inch vinyl singles. Each single contained two tracks from one of Primus' '90's studio albums. All 12 tracks were previously released and are currently available in other media formats. Each single was pressed in vinyl of a different color, and came with a sleeve with individual artwork. These singles should not be mistaken for vinyl reissues of the band's CD-singles from the '90's, promo or otherwise. In fact, most of these singles combine two former A-side tracks on one disc.

The oddball sound of Primus might be described as Zappa-esque metal, built mainly around Les Claypool's fast and loopy bass lines. Claypool is certainly more adept at bass-slappin' than he is at gum-flappin'. A little of his Zappa-like vocal delivery can go a long way, and even his bass playing can lose its novelty after a fairly short time. But these singles give the listener small doses of Claypool's mutant prog-metal instead of album-length helpings, and the absence of filler tracks makes it easier to appreciate Claypool's experimental surrealism.

The first single of the set, pressed in "ducky yellow" vinyl, contains two tracks from Primus' 1990 indie debut studio album Frizzle Fry. The A-side, "John The Fisherman", finds Claypool telling the short life story of a professional fisher; the B-side, "Too Many Puppies", is a quirky anti-war protest song. The sound of these early tracks is muddier than that of the band's later major-label output, which is actually advantageous, since these tracks tend to avoid excesses -- Claypool's vocal mannerisms notwithstanding. Instrumentally, these two tracks are fairly accessible; in fact, from a contemporary perspective, they bear some similarity to the work of Royal Blood, the bass-and-drums duo from England. This single provides a decent slice of early-'90's indie rock.

The set's second single, pressed in "bitter lime" vinyl, contains two tracks from Primus' 1991 major-label debut album Sailing The Seas Of Cheese. This single shows the band in a better light than the full album did. "Jerry Was A Race Car Driver" (telling the short life story of a pro racer) is a more sophisticated variation on "John The Fisherman", combining a quirky Beefheart-like bass groove with a metallic assault from Larry LaLonde's guitar. "Tommy The Cat" is an equivalent flip-side, built on an exciting speed-funk groove and featuring a gravelly-voiced guest vocal from Tom Waits.

The set's third single, pressed in "fermented orange" vinyl, contains two tracks from Primus' unlikely Top 10 album Pork Soda from 1993. "My Name Is Mud" is a unique variation on traditional murder ballads, built on a thudding bass-and-drums foundation and marked by stinging guitar noise. On the equally unusual "Mr. Krinkle", Claypool plays an upright bass like a dirty cello, reminiscent of Roy Wood's playing on the first ELO album.

The set's fourth single, pressed in "soft purple" vinyl, featured the band's best-known song, "Wynona's Big Brown Beaver". (Gotta love the sleeve artwork for that one). That song was a minor hit in the mid-'90's, possibly due to its strange but amusing video, or perhaps because it was perceived as a double-entendre alluding to celebrity genitalia. Whatever the intent, the song's creative country-metal silliness makes it infectious and hard to forget. Despite its title, the single's other track, "Southbound Pachyderm", does not have the same mutant country stylings. Instead, it's a six-and-a-half-minute Floyd-ian trip which is more in keeping with the general '70's-style prog tendencies of the 1995 Tales From The Punchbowl album.

The set's fifth single, pressed in "bruised peach" vinyl, contains two tracks from the 1998 Brown Album. These songs were recorded with new drummer Bryan "Brain" Mantia, after Tim Alexander's temporary departure, and Brain's more disciplined drumming caused Primus to sound less chaotic. On "Shake Hands With Beef", Brain's drumming noticeably pins down the song to the point where it almost comes across like a straightforward -- if moody -- rock track, although the surreal lyrics keep it from being exactly sing-along. Speaking of which, "Over The Falls" has a surprisingly accessible hook and a less-aggressive-than-usual bass line. If you only hear these two tracks without hearing the entire Brown Album, they might lead you to believe the album is less prog and more pop than it actually is.

Finally, the sixth single, pressed in "generic turquoise" vinyl, contains two tracks from the ambitious 1999 Antipop album, which turned out to be Primus' last new full-length studio album until 2011. "The Antipop" has a more high-tech, high-shine production than earlier Primus songs, and is actually reminiscent of '80's (as opposed to '70's) progressive rock; meanwhile, its lyrics find Claypool proudly declaring his perennial resistance to fashion. The other track, "Coattails Of A Dead Man", is a Tom Waits-produced oddity which is musically reminiscent of Kurt Weill's "Alabama Song" with its carnival-cabaret ambience. The lyrics tell a tale of a widow who enjoys fame and fortune after her famous husband's suicide -- interpreted by some as a thinly-veiled criticism of Courtney Love, although the members of Primus have never been known to comment on the song's intent. (This single contains only the proper 5-minutes-and-15-seconds of the song, leaving out the long silence and the extra song "The Heckler" added to the CD track on Antipop).

The Revenant Juke is a good collection of Primus selections, well-packaged and well-presented for the Primus fans who also love vinyl. For more casual Primus fans, nearly all of these same tracks (excluding "The Antipop") are collected on the 2006 compilation They Can't All Be Zingers, which is available digitally and on CD.

Primus - The Revenant Juke: A Collection of Fables and Farce

Primus "The Revenant Juke: A Collection Of Fables And Farce" (Third Man/Prawn Song TMR-792) 2022

Track Listing:

A. John The Fisherman
B. Too Many Puppies

C. Jerry Was A Race Car Driver
D. Tommy The Cat

E. My Name Is Mud
F. Mr. Krinkle

G. Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver
H. Southbound Pachyderm

I. Shake Hands With Beef
J. Over The Falls

K. The Antipop
L. Coattails Of A Dead Man

Reviews of other Third Man Records Vault packages