Bobby & co run the gamut from cool to cringe on their 10th LP…
Picking holes in Primal Scream is traditionally one of life’s less onerous tasks. There goes Bobby G, hymning revolution while sounding like a man who would struggle to overthrow a parking fine. On top of the de trop sloganeering there’s the borrowed poses, recycled rock clichés, the hipper-than-thou name-dropping.
More Light is not short of ammunition for those inclined to mock. Within 90 seconds it’s railing at “21st century slaves” and “television propaganda”. Soon Gillespie is quoting Thatcher and contemplating the threat of “neutron bombs”. Bless. Even when the targets are updated – “crackhouse zombies”, “bankers who steal your own money” – the effect is more insipid than incendiary.
The good news is that Primal Scream’s 10th album is sufficiently vibrant, inventive and surprising to ensure the medium comfortably trumps the message. After the pedestrian pop-rock of 2008’s Beautiful Future, More Light marks a return to what Gillespie might conceivably describe as “sonic outlaw mode”. The tightly wound dynamics familiar from XTRMTR and Vanishing Point are much in evidence: “Sideman” and “Hit Void” marry pounding krautrock to free-from instrumental freak-outs channelling The Sonics “Have Love Will Travel”, The Stooges “Funhouse” and John Coltrane. “Turn Each Other Inside Out” is the Velvet Underground’s “What Goes On” and “Murder Mystery” meeting the poetry of David Meltzer. “Culturecide” arrives with an escort of sirens and squelchy jazz-funk dynamics, The Pop Group’s Mark Stewart riding shotgun, wailing like a West Country Lydon. It’s both deeply silly and slightly thrilling.
This is Primal Scream at their most dense and dark, but in fact the best bits of More Light live up to its title: full of air and space and possibility. The bursts of sunlit saxophone that punctuate the album, nodding to the blissed-out pastures of “I’m Comin’ Down” and “Higher Than The Sun”, remind you that this is their first record since touring Screamadelica in 2011. The cultural context and musical styles may be miles apart, but the two records share a spirit of adventure and rejuvenation. In particular, the cinematic sensibility of producer David Holmes adds drama and texture. “River Of Pain”, a stark tale of domestic violence set to a looping acoustic guitar riff, Arabic rhythms and Gillespie’s whispering vocal, creeps with latent menace. The Sun Ra Arkestra are given free rein on the slowly collapsing middle section, which leads to a swooping string flourish. It’s genuinely terrific, Bollywood meets Albert Ayler.
Much of More Light meanders pleasingly. Opener “2013” is a nine-minute, two-chord space-rock odyssey featuring Kevin Shields, Moroccan motifs, whirring electronics and a nicely off-kilter horn refrain. It’s still not quite this generation’s “1969”, not least because the pre-chorus melody sounds like “Kokomo” by the Beach Boys. “Tenement Kid” is warped country-jazz skewered on a nervy string drone, thrumming with unreleased tension. “Goodbye Johnny” is similarly atmospheric, the lyrics taken from an unreleased Jeffrey Lee Pierce demo (not the song of the same name on the first Gun Club album) and set to smoky LA noir, all twang and slurpy sax. Later, Robert Plant pops up to prowl through the terrific “Elimination Blues”, a slow, smouldering desert blues powered by a hypnotic electric guitar figure.
With its 13 tracks running to more than 70 minutes, More Light does flag. A tendency to prioritise militancy over melody is most apparent on “Invisible City”, where punchy horns and a blizzard of social commentary (“kebab shops”, “suburban orgies”, the lot) fail to disguise an inherent lack of purpose.
The final two songs look back to less complicated days. “Walking With The Beast” is a spare, Byrdsy blues, while “It’s Alright, It’s OK” is “Movin’ On Up” redux. Initially, the latter feels like it belongs on a different Primal Scream album – or Beggar’s Banquet – but gradually its inclusion begins to make sense. More Light is, essentially, a committed, adventurous and largely enjoyable précis of Primal Scream’s improbably long career, running the gamut from the Stones to Sun Ra, the cool to the cringe. Not everything works, but somehow everything fits.