Review: Primal Scream – More Light
Published on May 15th, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
“It’s Alright, It’s OK”, the second single to be released from Primal Scream’s tenth studio album More Light, was on first hearing nowhere near as reassuring as its title would suggest. It seemed to point towards another frustratingly sub-Stones LP, but in its panned-out context at the end of a set that bears little if any resemblance to it, it feels more like a triumphant finale, a victory lap. It’s also impossible not to reconcile it with Scream classic “Movin’ on Up”, especially as Rocksucker’s iTunes segues straight into it the moment More Light comes to an end, Screamadelica being the next album alphabetically to More Light (unless you happen to own Primal Scream’s eponymous 1989 record, which we don’t, or 2006’s Riot City Blues, which we have/had on CD somewhere but never bothered ripping due to the afore-lamented sub-Stones-iness.)
Having been similarly unimpressed with 2008’s discomfortingly light-of-touch Beautiful Future, we’d prepared ourselves for the worst. What a pleasure it is, then, to report that Primal Scream’s first album in five years is also the best, most arse-kicking thing they’ve done since 2000’s XTRMNTR, better even than 2002’s pretty-good-too-since-you-ask sinister electro workout Evil Heat. Basically, its first single – namely “2013” – is a far better indicator of what to expect here than “It’s Alright, It’s OK”.
“2013” boasts one of the most commanding saxophone lines ever committed to record, making for the ideal soundtrack to a game of Bobby Gillespie Bingo: anyone else get “21st century slaves”, “television propaganda”, “prostitution” and “equalise, normalise, sanitise”? By gum, though, it’s hot-rockin’ in a way that the Scream haven’t been since Evil Heat; and, with its synaesthetically busy mix, the most psychedelically inclined they’ve sounded since 1997’s Vanishing Point. It’s also nine minutes long but when they’re in this sort of form that seems entirely forgiveable, if not downright necessary.
Who’s responsible for the lead guitar work? Little Barrie? Whoever it can be attributed to, it’s phenomenal, frequently bringing proceedings to boiling point with its laterally conceived squalls of distortion. Incidentally, if you like this sort of abrasive sax, Rocksucker implores you check out Pete Wareham’s new project Melt Yourself Down.
It may read like a Pixies title but the ensuing “River of Pain” sounds more like last-two-albums Beta Band. It’s got an astoundingly loaded mix that feels new and strange even for Primal Scream, welcoming on board some decidedly un-Byrds-y vocal harmonies before arriving at a tempestuous wilderness comprising of alarmed sounding strings and a cacophony of ‘found sounds’. This then leads into a stunningly beautiful orchestral arrangement (presumably courtesy of producer David Holmes) which swells and makes way for a round of brooding, minor-key fingerpicking riding another ace shuffling rhythm section. All told, it’s actually quite remarkable that they manage to do all this in just seven minutes.
Gillespie is in inspired form on “Culturecide”, a scuzzy stomp somewhere between XTRMNTR and Beck circa Odelay; he’s rapping, kind of, not quite, but whatever it is it works well amidst the combination of flute, fuzz bass, techno-y electronics and gleeful communal singing that recalls Super Furry Animals’ singalong classic “Smokin'”.
We’re then served up another good ‘un in the form of “Hit Void”, a sort of ‘wonky surf-punk’ re-imagining of XTRMNTR cut “Shoot Speed/Kill Light” and with extra added vocals, before More Light undergoes a relative and thankfully temporary lull with “Tenement Kid” and “Invisible City”, both okay but neither outstanding. Things pick up again on the blissed-out Beatles pop – yes Sonic Flower Groove fans, blissed-out Beatles pop! – of “Goodbye Johnny”, the sax solo of which treads a fine line but is sufficiently daft to earn its keep. Overall, it might just be the ‘loveliest’ thing they’ve done since “Star”.
“Sideman” is so bizarre as to be utterly compelling, its weird stomp aligned with a rumbling energy and the kind of busy mix we’ve harped on about quite enough already, while “Relativity” somehow manages to be driving and woozy at the same time; at least at first, for it then lets fly with amazing pounding oddness fitted up with cartoony electronics and a heavy metal bass line. Er, and then it goes into gently skipping psych-pop! It really does have to be heard to be believed.
After that we’re treated to a modern day great of a Primal Scream comedown ballad with “Walking With the Beast”, before “It’s Alright, It’s OK” comes back in to tidy up, shooting a knowing gaze at us as if to say, “I told you it would be alright and OK.” We’d quibble with that – it’s much better than merely ‘alright’ and ‘OK’ – but only time will tell whether or not More Light is deserving of extending the holy Primals trinity of Screamadelica/Vanishing Point/XTRMNTR into a top four. For now, it is at the very least a blessed relief and a genuinely delightful return to form.
Rocksucker says: Four Quails out of Five!
More Light is out now on Ignition Records.
For more information, please visit the official Primal Scream website.