Rock 'n' roll is filled with too many "personalities" to count. Nearly every great band has at least one character that fans can latch on to. Not many bands are made up entirely of larger-than-life personae, though, because, frankly, there usually isn't enough room. Even the best "supergroups" succeed because the meshing of personalities is just as smooth as the combination of musical talents. What to make, then, of Colonel Claypool's Bucket of Bernie Brains? This is a quartet of personalities so large they barely even need their names to generate a reputation to precede them. The first observation I can make after listening to their new release The Big Eyeball in the Sky (Prawn Song) is that in this bucket, there is one personality to rule them all: Les Claypool. This is, without a doubt, a Claypool project directly in line with every other band he's fronted, from Sausage to Primus to the Flying Frog Brigade to Oysterhead. The man himself has become his own genre of music and the gravitational pull of his galaxy can hold the orbits of several other musical spheres without budging.

So, the quickie review of this album/band is "Oysterhead: Part II," different talents, similar sound. The main players are Buckethead, Brain, and the Bernie Worrell, but the songs are Les, Les, and Les. I can describe it as prog-a-delic death metal with Claypool's helium-sucked vocals spewing apocalyptic poetry over a scintillating mix of post-funk bass slappage, lightning fast hair-band guitarobatics, low-end-heavy drum thumping, and whirling groove organ. If you love Les, you'll love this, no doubt, although it does leave some areas wanting.

The Bucket of Bernie Brains Brigade opens its CD with an homage to would-be protagonist "Buckethead." Very telling for the album as a whole, then, that the first true teeth-grinder of a guitar solo doesn't appear until almost five minutes into the track. Buckethead's talents are too absent from the overall sound, averaging less than one string-scorcher per track. For shame! And it ain't just shredding that he provides, either. The disc's strongest track is the instrumental "Elephant Ghost," a welcome respite of mellow with Buckethead playing very delicate, almost digital-sounding guitar raindrops (I'm sure he could make you weep if he wanted to). On the tune in question, Brain cools his relentless pounding and adds a bit of subtlety to an otherwise brain-rattling album. The weakness on "Elephant Ghost" as throughout, for me, is Bernie Worrell, who has consistently revealed to me over the years that he is living on borrowed (and yes, deserved) reputation from days ago. His organ solos are superfluous at times, zagging when the rest of the music seems to zig. Even when he adds some nice playing, he goes to the well once too often, ruining an almost beautiful run on this instrumental with his "signature" riff on that circus theme. If he's played it once, he's played it a zillion times over the course of his career. Some might find it endearing, but...

The two or three instrumentals on the disc come off as highlights not because they are instrumentals per se, but because, absent Les' vocals, they sound less like Primus/Frog Brigade/Oysterhead songs and more like what this band probably sounds like when they're jamming in front of a live audience. The Big Eyeball in the Sky fits in perfectly with all of Claypool's work, which is both its strength and its weakness.

Aaron Stein
JamBase | New York
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[Published on: 10/24/04]

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