Claypool defies “laws of tradition” with Oysterhead

I walked into Best Buy on a mission to find the CD I have been waiting for since May of 2000: Oysterhead.
Oysterhead is a band that travels the same path as the Traveling Wilbury’s (the band whose lineup included Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and George Harrison); they are a “super group” of sorts. The band is the brainchild of bass master Les Claypool (of Primus fame), jam guitarist Trey Anastasio (Phish) and drum legend Stewart Copeland (the Police). Their CD, The Grand Pecking Order, is a journey through the music this very experimental and very eclectic group created last spring.
The Grand Pecking Order generally reminds me of Primus. Claypool’s playing goes from his slap style that he nearly perfected in Primus, to the jammy style he has been using with the Fearless Flying Frog Brigade for the past year. He also utilizes the amazing “Trippy” pedal, which distorts his bass into some sort of P-Funk-meets-acid-rock sound.
The Grand Pecking Order will no doubt upset a few Phish-heads, because most of them never thought Trey would “shred,” but shred he did. His solo on “Mr. Oysterhead” is more Sabbath and less Dead. Also, Anastasio’s feedback intro into the fierce power chording on “Pseudo Suicide” was something I never expected to hear him play, especially when he puts on some Clutch-like chops to wail on.
“Pseudo Suicide” is broken up well, from dark sludge to the Primus-patented quick jams. The thing that always kept those jams tight was the drumming, and Copeland is an absolute genius on this record. You can feel how much fun he is having jamming with Claypool and Anastasio. He even sneaks a little double-bass work into the mix, which is another Oysterhead surprise. Copeland’s cymbal work is incredible, especially when working the high hat; the only thing more impressive is Copeland’s ability to change tempos at the drop of a hat.
The album is comprised of some songs that Anastasio wrote, some that Claypool wrote and some the band wrote together. Lyric-writing duty was split between Claypool and Anastasio, but the two of them wrote lyrics for several songs together.
Claypool’s humor comes out best in “Army’s on Ecstasy.” He provides a humorous tale about how urine testing is on the rise in the army because “it’s hard to kill the enemy on old MDMA.” He then uses classic Claypool storytelling to send an anti-War- on-Drugs message. He tells the story of the King of Contradiction and the Queen of Mystery, and how they want to stop the Prince of Paradox because he “dogs me like a flea,” according to the King. The song’s sound is vintage Claypool and brings the goofiness of Oysterhead to light.
Anastasio’s talents are best displayed on the blues jam, “Birthday Boys,” which reminds me of something off the “Oh Brother Where Art Thou” soundtrack. The song decribes a humorous tale about how Anastasio doesn’t mind having his girl Gina around but he says, “I’m not in the mood for conversation/you can come around but don’t you talk to me.” It is a fun little groove that becomes a turning point on the album as a whole. The next song is the psychedelic “Wield the Spade,” with speech-like lyrics and eerie wave-like music providing a mellow, yet spooky, atmosphere to the tune, a great response to “Birthday Boys.”
This leads right into the thrash-induced “Pseudo Suicide.” The song defines Oysterhead. It’s very experimental and bends over many styles. There is the heavy part and the groove; then the breakdowns and jams. It allows each musician to showcase his talents. Claypool and Anastasio trade off lead singer positions midway through the song and then harmonize. Both of their very distinct, unique voices mesh wonderfully, overtop of one of the sickest drumbeats Copeland has ever busted out.
If you’re in the mood for an eclectic and different musical experience, purchase The Grand Pecking Order for a fun time.

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