Title.....: The Grand Pecking Order
Rel. Date.: 2001
1. "Little Faces" - 4:57
2. "Oz is Ever Floating" - 2:49
3. "Mr. Oysterhead" - 4:51 (music: Oysterhead, lyrics: Claypool)
4. "Shadow of a Man" - 3:44 (music and lyrics: Claypool)
5. "Radon Balloon" - 3:21 (music and lyrics: Anastasio)
6. "Army's on Ecstasy" - 4:31 (Music: Oysterhead, Lyrics: Claypool)
7. "Rubberneck Lions" - 5:17
8. "Polka Dot Rose" - 3:10 (music: Oysterhead, lyrics: Claypool)
9. "Birthday Boys" - 3:06
10. "Wield the Spade" - 5:48 (music: Oysterhead, lyrics: Copeland and MacDonald)
11. "Pseudo Suicide" - 4:54
12. "The Grand Pecking Order" - 2:35 (music: Anastasio and Claypool, lyrics: Claypool)
13. "Owner of the World" - 2:45
14-Ahoy There (unreleased)
15-Were Here (unreleased)
Oysterhead is a supergroup rock band featuring guitarist Trey Anastasio of Phish, bassist Les Claypool of Primus, and drummer Stewart Copeland of The Police. The style and sound of the band is a unique, somewhat eclectic mix between Anastasio's jam band style, the bass-oriented funk metal music of Claypool, and the reggae-influenced beats of Copeland. To many, this is considered to be the bridge between the music of Phish and Primus.
Claypool's sensibilities seem to shine through most brightly on The Grand Pecking Order. It's not just his basslines (which would be almost impossible to seamlessly integrate into any musical scenario, save an orchestra of rubber bands), but also his persistent juxtaposition of strange voices and stranger characters. Of course, this applies as much to the band itself as the songs, and that his stamp seems most evident on the proceedings is predictable in hindsight.
Tunes like "Mr. Oysterhead," "Army's on Ecstasy" and "Shadow of a Man" could almost pass for Primus tunes with their rather single-minded narrative focus, bass-driven grooves and faux-Waits character studies. However, these are the kinds of tunes that benefit most from the trio's collaboration. Copeland plays with simultaneously more subtlety and precision here than anyone who has played with Claypool in the past, and though Anastasio seems to have been underutilized in many places, is nothing if not more tasteful than Claypool. Is that a recommendation? Are you a Primus fan? Let me try again.
Elsewhere, the dynamic shifts towards Anastasio, whose songwriting ability is easily the most traditionally melodic of Oysterhead's three members. He seems to have been the driving force behind tunes like "Radon Balloon" (an acoustic pop song in the vein of Mummer-era XTC), "Birthday Boys" and "Oz is Ever Floating." In each of these instances, melody was placed ahead of the purely groovy, and even though the group lacks any kind of real frontman, vocally speaking, Anastasio's melodies tend to linger in my head longer than Claypool's. Again, it's the playing that will probably get the most headlines for this group, and though I would hesitate to read too much into this music, it's possible Anastasio could ultimately end up with the most to lose by "throwing away" songs here.
And then there was Sir Copeland, and his heavenly snare and high-hat. From a compositional point of view, it's difficult to tell how much he was involved, save an interesting spoken-word/ambient piece called "Wield the Spade" near the end of the disc. Copeland may have been invited to this summit more out of hero-worship from his partners than anything else, but musically, I wonder whom the real leader of this project was. It's obvious he hasn't lost much in the fifteen or so years since we last heard him behind the kit (and Sting, talk about being a "backup" musician), and I couldn't help but reminisce a little for the days when this kind of passion for playing was transmitting from radios everywhere. I'd heard that Copeland had gotten lost in a sea of soundtracks and ballets, and was prepared for the worst. Surprisingly, he sounds great. Chalk one up for the forty-somethings that he governs the pace for musos 15 years his junior.