Review of ‘More Light’ by Primal Scream

First published 10/05/13 on http://soundblab.com/content/content/view/id/5167/preview/1:

One of the most endearing things about Primal Scream lead singer Bobby Gillespie is that he is and always has been a music fan first and foremost. Indeed, Gillespie often sounds most passionate discussing the music that inspires him, rather than the music he makes himself. Not for Gillespie the standard rock star pretence that they bow down only to The Beatles, or The Smiths, or whoever their tokenistic ‘big influence’ is. Rather, Primal Scream have always made much of their wide array of musical influences, something which has been the case ever since their days as teenagers in Glasgow when Gillespie used to show off his credentials with the fact that he bought the Sex Pistols’ ‘God Save the Queen’ and Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’ on the same day.

Of course, the caveat in stating that Primal Scream are music fans first and foremost is that it is exactly this love of music which has been instrumental in them releasing some of the finest albums of the past 20 years. Hearing Gillespie enthuse about how Screamadelica brought together his favourite styles of music, from blues to dub, from gospel to house, it is evident that this passion is what feeds into Primal Scream’s musical breadth and has made them the antithesis to those bands who can be characterised by a simple, “Sounds like Beatles/Stones/Joy Division (delete as applicable)”.

It was this, however, that made 2006’s Riot City Blues something of a disappointment. The album was far from dreadful but in adopting over a whole album a bluesy, Rolling Stones-a-like sound, the band sacrificed their reputation as eclectic innovators who took their influences in 11 new directions over the course of one album, never mind across their career. Hopes were high for 2008’s Beautiful Future but, despite having moved on from the retro obsessions of Riot City Blues, the album felt somewhat undercooked and nothing matched its first single, the terrific ‘Can’t Go Back’.

We’re had to wait five long years for the follow-up and one could be forgiven for worrying that Primal Scream may simply have lost the edge that they once had – after all, it’s hardly unheard of for a band to have lost some of their impact 30 years on from first forming. More Light stomps on this suggestion from the very first song and, over the hour and 10 minutes the album lasts for, Gillespie and co make a mockery of the idea that there’s no place for Primal Scream in 2013.

Typically for this bunch of music obsessives, where the album most impresses is in the instrumentation. Opening track ‘2013’s recurring, wonky saxophone is the first sign that More Light is Primal Scream’s attempt to return to the musical experimentalism which marked their pre-Riot City Blues output, and it’s terrific. ‘Goodbye Johnny’ features lovely, shimmering guitar reminiscent of Nancy Sinatra’s version of ‘Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)’; ‘Turn Each Other Inside Out’ has an almost Krautrock feel to it, while the bass work on ‘Tenement City’ (one of the album’s finest songs) and the wonderfully catchy, brass-propelled ‘Invisible City’ prove that Simone Butler is a more than adequate replacement for Mani, back with The Stone Roses for their reunion.

Indeed, ‘Elimination Blues’ in particular brings to mind something Keith Richards said a few years back on the current crop of rock ‘n’ roll bands: “They forget the roll and they only keep the rock. The roll’s the whole damn thing, dude”. Over bluesy wailings, Andrew Innes unleashes an absolute swagger of a guitar riff, as Butler noodles away on bass and Gillespie croons about how his “baby’s gone, she’s moving town”. It’s an album highlight and one can’t help but feel that, with this kind of roll to match the rock, Richards would approve. The album’s other highpoint is saved until last. ‘It’s Alright, It’s OK’ is a joyful romp in the mould of ‘Movin’ On Up’, with Gillespie singing, “I don’t care about tomorrow when I feel like this today” over a tune so catchy it must be their next single.

The album isn’t perfect throughout. ‘Hit Void’ is forgettable (and they’re just asking for the lazy writer’s obvious joke with that title), and ‘Relativity’ is an abrasive mess until the tone shifts four minutes in. But if two poor tracks out of 13 is the price to pay for Primal Scream experimenting again, then it’s a price easily worth paying.

The rest of the album is testament to the highs they can reach when they refuse to play it safe. More Light is the kind of album we feared Primal Scream might never make again – and it’s their best since XTRMNTR.