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Primal Scream
More Light Luke Turner , May 13th, 2013 05:54

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Primal Scream have always been a hard band to really love. Their lurching from jangling dreamers (Sonic Flower Groove) to drug-touched genre benders (Screamadelica) to rock & roll chop boys (Give Out But Don't Give Up) to dub warriors (Vanishing Point) and millennial digi-industrialists (XTRMNTR) was peculiar to witness, their intent hard to define. This flip-flopping, combined with remarkable inconsistency live (in my experience, Primal Scream gigs have veered between violent transcendence and watching a bunch of old drunks shouting for opening time through a closed pub window) meant it often felt that they were grasping at some dubious, mythical idea of what rock music is and can do, rather than achieving it. Yet part of the charm of Bobby G and co is that their evolution has felt heartfelt; naive even. The 'we mean it, man' vibe has been both their strength and weakness. Gillespie's attempt to channel the 'woah yeah bleeding spirit of rock & roll baaaaby' has a nasty tendency to involve him lolloping around the stage like a randy goat, and it's often been hard to shake the suspicion that their finest, furthest out albums - Screamadelica and XTRMNTR - were achievements more of Primal Scream's collaborators than the band themselves.

Since the magnificent XTRMNTR the band have slid into a creative rut, releasing record after record that seemed to reference bits and pieces of their back catalogue without ever really going anywhere new. More Light stands out, then, simply because on it Primal Scream seem to have made an effort.

With David Holmes producing, More Light is a bold record that stretches for 13 tracks, and runs to over an hour in length. It opens with State Of The Nation single '2013', a nine-minute epic of lumbering percussion, twirling organs, a driving brass riff that skronks for England and a freak-out breakdown that really throws the kitchen sink - including the guitar line from The Fall's 'Sparta FC' - at proceedings. Not only the best Primal Scream track since 'Swastika Eyes', its presence at the front of the album helps to swiftly despatch the elephant in the room - Bobby Gillespie's very political lyrics. Is it incongruous hearing Gillespie singing "what happened to the voices of dissent / Getting rich I guess / become part of the establishment" when (even if he has given up the snifters with Kate Moss) he lives in pleasant, leafy North East London, sends his children to private school and fronts a band who are about as Brit indie establishment as you can get?

Perhaps Gillespie should be careful what he wishes for - come the revolution, flouncing aesthetes in nice shirts are frequently first against the wall. Yet let us not smirk - he's rather damned if you don't, damned if you do, and (largely due to how powerfully enjoyable the music is here) should be given the benefit of the doubt. The caricature that is Rock & Roll Rebel Gillespie is annoying partly because it's crassly done - see the 2008 South Bank gig mutual jerk-off Primal Scream played with the The MC5, surely the Sid The Sexists of 'radical' rock. Here, by contrast, the relative power and ambition of the music and sense that Gillespie is putting a lot of himself into the piece carries all the lyrics of "21st century slaves", "Holocaust central howling at my back" and exhortations to "read your Marx & Engels / Be a situationist / like Guy Debord". We have a cultural squeamishness concerning political lyrics that's becoming absurd, given the times we live in, and just how often do we hear a mainstream indie rock group at least actually try and say something, even if the hectoring is arguably based on a rather outdated model?

Primal Scream as a band are on form here, aided and abetted by Kevin Shields, Robert Plant, Woody Jackson and post-punk ploughman Mark Stewart, who turns up to give some querulous vocal and "jazz funk whistle" menace on the bruising 'Culturecide'. 'River Of Pain', which connects the lack of meaning in the modern workplace with domestic violence, is the most subtle track here, acoustic guitars atop a discreet groove. 'Hit Void' is a righteous, noisy blaster up there with anything off XTRMNTR and ends with some more roaring brass, and 'Invisible City' is a taut and jaunty ode to London that I swear must have been written on a bus (or most likely in the back of a cab) up the Kingsland Road.

The more retro excursions are pretty solid too. 'Tenement Kid' sounds like The Beatles soundtracking a public information film, the mod psych of 'Sideman' is all handclaps and twitchy fringe swing, while 'Relativity' is an excellent piece of English psychedelia, sunshine twangs and Watership Down clarinet, a pastoral breakdown and chill out among the ruins as nature takes over after the detritus of insurrection (this stuff's catching). 'Goodbye Johnny', meanwhile, sees Gillespie exploring his long-term love of Alan Vega's digital take on rock & roll, and closer 'It's Alright, It's OK' is, yes, just about good enough to be excused for essentially being 'Movin' On Up' MK II.

Whether new-found sobriety, passionate annoyance at the powers that be, or just the the inevitable ebb and flow of creativity within the dynamics of the band that's to thank for it, More Light stands as one of Primal Scream's finest, most honest records, even if the ravens remain soundly roosting within the Tower's walls.

Joe K
May 13, 2013 10:42am

'The MC5, surely the Sid The Sexists of 'radical' rock' - absolutely brilliant, Luke. Coffee on keyboard etc.

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James
May 13, 2013 1:46pm

Very rarely do I say this about album reviews, even on this fine site but I really enjoyed that, a great read. Well done.

As for the album, it's a pleasant suprise. I agree it sounds like they've made an effort, the last 2 in particular have sounded phoned in.

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SY
May 13, 2013 3:17pm

In reply to James:

The biggest compliment I can give this record is that I completely forgot who I was listening to. It sounds nothing like "classic" Primal Scream, which obviously, is a very good thing..... (even the vocals)

Perhaps writing and recording while "straight" isn't such a bad idea after all.

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Tones
May 13, 2013 4:32pm

A forgiving review Luke, but to give credit where it's due - it's a common misnomer that Screamadelica & Xtmntr were the work of their collaborators. The demos for both show that they were largely the band's own work.

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D. Basement
May 13, 2013 5:59pm

Bought More Light today (from a record shop, dammit!) - have yet to sit down & listen to it though, am awaiting a suitably overcast & beer-sodden evening to immerse myself in it.

Just wanted to add that, as great as XTRMNTR & Screamadelica might be, Vanishing Point is just as good (& Evil Heat isn't bad either).

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J. Temperance
May 13, 2013 11:24pm

"read your Marx & Engels / Be a situationist / like Guy Debord" Really Bobby? Read your Debord and then you'd know he would probably have thought you were a tool.

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Glenn
May 13, 2013 11:50pm

Fine review Luke! I agree that some of the Scream's output has been a bit hit and miss the last few discs but still quite solid. This is their best work since XTRMNTR and a welcome addition to an already impressive career canon!!

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Johnny Nothing
May 14, 2013 12:15am

How good is "a bunch of old drunks shouting for opening time through a closed pub window"? Primal Scream have so so many things wrong with them and yet I own and love at least half of what they put out. Go figure, I say to myself.

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D. Basement
May 14, 2013 8:30am

In reply to J. Temperance:

In all fairness, Debord was a pretentious, self-aggrandising tit too... but that doesn't make his oeuvre any less interesting. Ditto Gillespie.

More Light is really good, by the way. David Holmes' production really flatters them.

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cd
May 14, 2013 9:06am

Im pleasantly surprised by this album. Turns out a lot better than i expected from the terrible preview tunes, easily the worst things on it. Made me think i wouldnt get it. Ive a feeling those tunes will have killed any chance it has of making an impact, no matter how good a return to form it is. Its unlikely theyre going to bother the charts again, so they should have went for a more radical tune out of the blocks to round up their old fans (of which im one)

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May 14, 2013 10:38am

goodbye johnny would have been good opening gambit - real nice sound to it

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May 14, 2013 12:32pm

Scott EngEl s/t, 2, 3, 4 >>>>> Primal Scream >>>>> Drift, Bisch Bosch etc

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J. Temperance
May 14, 2013 6:48pm

In reply to D. Basement:

I take your point.And my post looks a bit pretentious in itself. I stand by it though. Musically I think this stuff is a vast improvement on recent releases, I just wish Bobby would try to be slightly less vacuous in his lyrics.

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Marti diBergi (again)
May 18, 2013 12:34pm

The review for "More Light" was simply two words ...more shite.

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George B
May 23, 2013 4:15pm

As someone who grew up with the mighty Screamadelica (yes I'm old) nothing they've done since compares, or even sounds remotely like. Its a real shame...at least I can that on anytime :-)

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