Anastasio, Claypool and Copeland a 'Grand' failure

by David Klein | 10/23/01 5:00am

Oysterhead's debut release, "The Grand Pecking Order," is a failure of XFL proportions.

To label the band a "supergroup" would have been appropriate over a year ago when the trio of guitarist/vocalist Trey Anastasio bassist/vocalist Les Claypool and drummer Stewart Copeland -- each extraordinary musicians in their own right -- debuted at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival to much fanfare.

That show, which featured a spirited mix of original songs and covers -- including a ferocious version of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" -- left many salivating for more.

But with their first studio effort, it seems Oysterhead should have been a one-shot deal.

There is but one moment on "The Grand Pecking Order" that makes the release appear to be a worthwhile experiment. This occurs in the first few seconds of the album's opening track, "Little Faces," when Anastasio's familiar whirring guitar sound meshes with Copeland's rapid fire drumming and Claypool's thumping bass. These early glimpses of musical intensity, however, quickly drown out into a muck of peculiar sonic blandness that persists throughout the rest of the album.

Blending the bizzaro psychedelica of early Pink Floyd with the buffoonish over-the-top sensibility of Styx's "Kilroy Was Here," "The Grand Pecking Order" appears to be more like a long-running joke that an actual attempt at musical decency.

Claypool's presence -- and lack thereof -- is particularly dismal throughout the album. His signature slap-happy bass stylings that served as a trademark for his former band, Primus, are virtually non-existent in his contributions to Oysterhead. Instead, Claypool trumps up his vocal presence, which was tolerable when he utilized a rapping-like delivery back in the Primus days. On "The Grand Pecking Order," his oft-used nasal singing voice -- think Third Rock from the Sun's French Stewart doing karaoke -- permeates throughout the album like the plague, becoming more and more excruciating with each listen.

Copeland's contributions to Oysterhead are non-spectacular as well. Though the former Police drummer is clearly a genius at his craft, it never shows on the "Grand Pecking Order."

Anastasio's amiable vocals are always a welcome addition, however, they are often distorted and thrown off kilt on the album. Songs such as "Radon Balloon" and "Birthday Boys" are decent enough, but wouldn't be fit to appear on any Phish album.

The guitar virtuoso merely strums along hapherzadly throughout "The Grand Pecking Order," never approaching the musical grandness acheived on such Phish tunes as "Punch You in The Eye" and "Run Like an Antelope."

That Anastasio could be associated with such an abysmal side-project seems ludicrous in light of his recent musical efforts. Ever since Phish announced they would be going on hiatus, Anastasio has found great success through his collaboration with the Vermont Youth Orchestra and a pair of solo tours during which he served up the signature Phish sound with a funked up flair. How could he have gone so terribly wrong with Oysterhead?

While Anastasio and Claypool have never been stellar lyricists, the musical genius of their former bands always seemed to overwhelm this defect.

Unfortunately, with the muted musical output presented on "The Grand Pecking Order," their lyrical stupidity steps up and slaps you in the face.

"When all else has been done and said/ You best look out for Mr. Oysterhead / He's an inspiration to us all," Anastasio and Claypool sing on "Mr. Oysterhead." Folks, do yourself a favor and keep a distance if Mr. Oysterhead ever comes your way.

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