Saturday, 4 May 2013

REVIEW: Primal Scream - More Light (First International Records)

In 1997, Primal Scream changed the way I listened to music forever, with their phenomenal 'Vanishing Point'. The follow up 'XTRMNTR' turned me on to politics and various music genres I hadn't explored previously. It was perhaps inevitable that after those two magnificent albums, subsequent releases failed to match such outstanding quality. 2008's 'Beautiful Future' was a good record, but not a good Primal Scream record. Something about it just seemed a bit too conventional by their standards, and it was perhaps an indication that another change was needed in order to revive the momentum and keep things moving along.

During the intervening years, legendary bass icon Mani departed after over a decade with the group to return to his old pals in The Stone Roses, and after recording 'More Light' this ever changing unit welcomed the unknown Simone Butler into the fold. After spending the last few years touring 1991's landmark 'Screamadelica', there have been rumours that the album's sound was to be a major influence on the band's new LP. The truth is that the tone is in fact closer to that of 'Vanishing Point' and 'XTRMNTR', however 'More Light' is a very different record that sees Primal Scream moving in new directions once again.

Producer David Holmes helps the record flow with a filmic quality, the sort of album that takes you on a memorable journey. And like 'Vanishing Point', this is a good record for the road as well as a terrific thing to experience through headphones. Although there are hints of their best LPs, this isn't a case of a band repeating themselves. The explosive nine minute opener '2013' is the sound of thrilling confrontation that perfectly defines the state of modern culture. While others are either afraid to protest or not concerned, here is a fine and all too rare modern day example of a dire political, social and cultural climate provoking a powerful musical reaction, and Primal Scream are just the band to do it. 

"We’re living in very extreme times, but that doesn’t seem to be reflected in the music that I hear or the art that I see," says Gillespie, "It seems that people are either anaesthetised, or they just don’t care. There’s no sense of revolt or resistance in art at the moment, whether it be music or the visual arts... I just feel that at the moment, that rock ‘n’ roll or rock musicians are either tranquillised, or they don’t care. Our songs kind of deal with that issue. We’re saying, ‘Where are the angry voices? Where’s the protest? Why’s nobody protesting? Why’s everybody silent?’". Characterised by dissonance, angry rasping sax and a heavy rock beat are joined by the sounds of some mind blowing guitar from Kevin Shields.

Listening to the entrancing 'River Of Pain' through a good pair of headphones makes me feel like my 13 year old self hearing 'Vanishing Point' on my Walkman for the first time, a mind blowing experience packed full of terrific sounds. Its Eastern vibe, hypnotic funk rhythm and shimmering acoustic guitar almost bring to mind a slinky, mysterious relative of 1997's 'Kowalski'. Four minutes in, the whole thing breaks down and sucks you into a major freakout, a cascade of free jazz, dub sounds and the booming swell of an orchestra. This psychedelic atmosphere seems to define much of the album, making 'More Light' perhaps the trippiest Primal Scream record yet, some of it flowing in a freeform style, some of it sounding tunefully accessible. In that aspect, it does have things in common with 'Screamadelica', but don't expect to hear any dance beats here. It's also a much angrier piece of work, but certainly not a straight forward rock record like the previous two.

The snarling 'Culturecide' revisits the lyrical themes of 2013, addressing society's ignorance in a time of class war and turbulent times. Industrial synth and moody bass fuels this hard hitting piece of rock n roll social commentary. There's no room for complacency here. Although this is Bobby Gillespie's first "drug free" album, the euphoric energy and powerful My Bloody Valentine-esque guitars of 'Hit Void' present something that's as "out-there" as anything the group have ever done, while the slow burning 'Tenament Kid' succeeds with layered rhythms and more terrific sounds.

It's a sprawling record that is probably best listened to in two parts, making the double vinyl format an ideal choice, but a couple of tracks leave you wondering why they felt the need to include them on an already lengthy LP. And it's not because they're bad songs, it's because they don't seem to fit in with the flow of the record. 'Invisible City' is such a moment, and out of all the tracks here probably has the most in common with the previous album, combining soul and garage rock with an upbeat groove. It sounds out of place with the rest of the LP, yet it also demonstrates their diversity.

The sparse, simple 'Goodbye Johnny' is a brilliantly haunting and creepingly infectious moment, complete with more fantastic sax, an instrument that appears often during the course of the album and used to great effect. 'Sideman' is a most unusual moment, riotous psychedelica with a stomping rhythm and shades of 60's weirdness, while 'Elimination Blues' sees Robert Plant providing backing vocals over a trippy gospel swamp groove. It sure does sound mighty when that fat, sleazy beat and crying guitar enter about two minutes in, although the lyrics tend to let it down a bit.

The excellent 'We Turn Each Other Inside Out' runs on a relentless motorik beat and features more incredible guitars, another addictive and truly exciting highlight, while the nine minute 'Relativity' begins calmly enough before quickly bursting into a violent stomp where Bobby G sounds angrier than he has for years. And then five minutes in it completely changes rhythm and mood, drifting into a euphoric state and ending on a blissful note.

The peaceful, sparse 'Walking With The Beast' resonates with a low key beauty, while the closing 'It's All Right, It's OK' sounds very much separate from the rest of the LP in terms of tone and sound. It's the one track here that could have come from a 'Screamadelica' sequel, all piano, bongos and gospel vibes, very much like the offspring of 'Movin' On Up' and 'Jailbird'. In terms of it being the pre-album single, it's certainly a misleading one. Considering that it's the only track that has major similarities to previous material, there's a touch of irony in the line "fake nostalgia for another's past has never been my way", but it's joyously uplifting nevertheless, and probably the song of the summer.

Running at over 70 minutes, 'More Light' is the sprawling sound of a reinvigorated group giving it all they've got and stretching their musical imaginations to the limits, sounding vital and important once again. 4.5 out of 5

Order your copy of 'More Light' HERE

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