By now, Primus' modus operandi is clear and well-established: twisted bass/drum grooves reminiscent of King Crimson gone horribly, horribly wrong, insane ringmaster vocals with cartoonish lyrics, and cutting, off-the-wall guitar. There is much unabashed prog rock in Primus' sound, which even the thick dollops of irony that the band seeks to impart to its compositions are unable to mask completely. Primus' musicianship continues to improve, with the intonation of Les Claypool's trademark fretless bass (a sore spot in the past) more spot-on than ever, and guitarist Larry LaLonde's Fripp-isms are truly convincing for the first time. The funk influences that have always been hinted at on previous Primus records seem more convincing here, as Claypool and drummer Tim "Herb" Alexander lay down some extremely grooving figures, as on the Red Hot Chili Peppers-esque "chorus" to "Mrs. Blaileen." Of course, the high-energy angular rhythms that Primus is known and loved for are as present as ever; they are just pulled off with greater zest and looser precision (if there is such a thing) than they have in the past. LaLonde in particular seems to have improved a great deal between Pork Soda and Tales From the Punchbowl. His dissonances seem a bit more calculated and less gratuitous and lazy than they often came off before. With high energy and full of surprises, Tales From the Punchbowl is one of Primus' finer discs.
AllMusic Review by Daniel Gioffre