There are some songs I like because they’re breathtaking works of art. Then there’s Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver, a typically eccentric Primus song in which Les Claypool scats about an ornery but lovable animal.
Primus is one of those bands that has to hit their unusual combination of goals just right to make it work. Lyrically, they usually try too hard to be amusing. (Other titles off the Tales From the Punchbowl release: Professor Nutbutter’s House of Treats, Southbound Pachyderm, Glass Sandwich.) Claypool’s ability to conjure up all sorts of madness with a bass never ceases to impress, but it’s not always listenable. The rest of the trio is capable, but when you put everything together, it’s sometimes a train wreck.
Here, everything works. Claypool plays as if his bass is the beaver, playfully skittering around the fretboard and sometimes baring his teeth. (The beaver’s teeth, that is, not Claypool’s.) Tim “Herb” Alexander plays a superb rhythmic counterpoint on the drums. Larry Lalonde, often lost in the frenetic Primus mix, picks his spots well on this one, offering one howling slide-guitar interlude in the middle and wrapping things up with some deft picking that veers between bluegrass and jazz.
Often, Primus was weird for the sake of weird. (Yes, that’s Moe’s definition of postmodernism in The Simpsons.) Perhaps they still are in this case, but it just works so much better here. They aren’t just showing off — they’ve mastered their offbeat craft.
Can you imagine what would have been lost if Claypool had joined Metallica instead?