Oysterhead: The Grand Pecking Order | Album Review
By James Wilson
“A worthwhile record packed with highbrow weirdness.”
Upon seeing the lineup for the one-time three-piece supergroup Oysterhead, it’s hard at first not to become a little over-anticipatory. The first thing that will stand out for many is its truly stellar rhythm section. With the eccentric and unmistakable talent of Les Claypool of Primus on bass combined with the masterfully unpredictable Stewart Copeland of The Police on drums, it seems a match made in backbeat heaven.
Trey Anastasio, an energetic and vibrant guitarist and vocalist of Phish completes the trio, and seems an ideal choice to provide the melody for the group. All seems great so far. However, as can often turn out to be the case with supergroups, it somehow seems almost too good to be true. That’s certainly how I felt when I first heard about this album. “It’ll be TOO weird, TOO experimental,” I thought. Thankfully, it turns out that this is (mostly) not the case.
The Grand Pecking Order manages to display each of its members' individual talents consistently throughout its fifty-one-minute runtime.
Its opening track ‘Little Faces’ is a prime example of this. Claypool imparts his signature growling, thumping bass sound into the track, tinged with just a hint of funk, as well as his characteristic oddball vocal and lyrical style. Copeland provides a backbeat that feels both understated as well as unmissable, supporting the song with his iconic cross-stick sound and deft hi-hat work. Anastasio adds an aggressive yet fluid guitar tone for the melody, balanced with smoother vocals that play well against the often more abrasive, unconventional tones that Claypool is known for.
The whole album carries a surreal “space age” atmosphere to it, with otherworldly synths that pound and whistle throughout tracks such as ‘Mr. Oysterhead’. This creates a dreamlike feel which is exacerbated by the aforementioned surrealness of Claypool’s lyrics. However, the album also attempts to remain grounded in reality by occasionally varying its sound, with less aberrant tracks such as the acoustic ‘Birthday Boys’.
It also, on some level, achieves this through its subject material. A common theme throughout the record appears to relate to modern American politics and military ongoings, seen in tracks such as ‘Army’s on Ecstasy’ and in ‘Wield the Spade’, in which Copeland provides spoken word whilst taking on the character of a maniacal dictator waiting to be shaved, a role he seems to be thoroughly enjoying. However, despite appearing to attempt to tackle real-world subject matters, the lyrics can often feel a tad too ambiguous. At times, they can come across as downright nonsensical, which may lead some listeners to question their place in the album at all.
All in all, Oysterhead’s sole album leaves you wanting more. With it having been over two decades since its release, it seems unlikely that we will ever see a follow-up to it. But the sound the unlikely trio creates here is certainly consistently unique and interesting enough to have warranted further releases, had they been so inclined, and is well worth taking the time to listen to for anyone looking for something a little out of the ordinary.