Primal Scream: More Light – album review
An epic album, More Light has the spirit and the quest of album that comes from a time when music was mind expanding and believed that it could blow your mind and change the world. Maybe, to some, that’s retro and out of sync with these times, a modern time when indie doesn’t mean independent and rock n roll has become a blipvert in a cookery show or an in-car CD for middle aged men presenting car programmers or a glib name to drop by the Eton Rifles that run this land.
More Light is just what we needed- an album that is a trip and an adventure, a place to get lost in and deals with the world without getting dragged down by it- full of firebrand rock n roll politics and fervoured calls to revolutionary soul power.
More Light is yet more living proof that great rock n roll still exists, an album that is a trip through the dense undergrowth of modern Britain, were a walk though a city is soundtracked with a million musics and a cultural overload. This is an album that stares the apocalypse in the eye and does not back down and is full of righteous politic and revolutionary yearning.
The new Primal Scream album is a state of the nation address incorporating free jazz/free rock, electronics, rock n roll, digital blues, urban scuzz electronics and orchestral layered hypnotic madness. It’s an epic, sprawling classic, a dark blues for the contemporary city. With the inner core of the band Bobby Gillespie and Andrew Innes on fire and producer David Holmes’ cinematic vision really adding to the album and giving them the confidence to really stretch out. Holmes is a great choice of producer- he came out of the punk to acid house meltdown and made some great cinematic albums of his own and go a great rep for mixing and producing- on More Light he adds texture and ideas to the Scream meltdown and it really enhances the sound giving the band their most 3D sound so far.
A rock n roll band’s job is not to provide solutions, at best it provides a commentary, capturing a moment, using romantic imagery and lyrical shrapnel to paint a picture. If it’s awake and still turned on it will offer a critique- Primal Scream have their eyes wide open and paint both a picture of a UK in paralysis, run into the ground by selfish government and sleep walking towards the end time but they also paint a romantic picture of a country bruising at the seams with a cross cultural mindfuck of possibility and excitement and paint it with the words of romantic bohemians. They also sing of revolution of the everyday and with the social clarity of prime time Joe Strummer in a wonderful rush of images and ideas.
The album is like a film- a warped documentary of contemporary Britain, the sequencing of the tracks and the length of the album adds to this and you can see the fast forward images of street life UK of 2013 played out in front of you as the tracks stretch out and Bobby Gillespie turns on the political and social rhetoric like an impassioned preacherman.
Musically the album is a tsunami of ideas, once you’re into this trip you can’t get out. This is a rock n roll band on fire and in love with ideas and tearing down the framework there is soundtrack and free jazz mashed into a contemporary setting giving the band a whole new feel, capturing those voodoo vibes when the jazzers started to get plain weird all those years ago and tripped out before the rock n rollers got there- entering that pure zone of ideas and feel and free from the curse of hit records and structure.
This is an album that has that looseness and the dark magus magic of those classic of old school jazz players like Pharaoh Saunders, Coltrane, Sun Ra and many others jazz geniuses when they really went out there and led the skinny white kids on a far stranger trip than they could ever imagine. What Primal Scream have done though is taken that adventure and bathed it with the post punk explosion of Metal Box Pil and their contemporaries and the wide eyed soundscapes of the post acid acid comedown and the repetition of krautrock- all eras when music got wonky and followed instinct instead bank accounts- and yet, oddly, they have also managed to turn it into a kind of pop music and this album is not an experimental mess or an ‘experimess’- it’s very, very listenable.
The opening salvo of More Light is the near ten minutes of musical bliss of 2013 with its honking sax hook and the krautrock hypnosis. The song really gets under your skin as Bobby Gillespie raises the rock n roll rebel standard for one last time. The song is like a wonky Psychedelic Furs with that fantastic sax hook, and it sets the agenda with angry politicised lyrics staring the Tory regime in the face and spitting back the old school rebel rock polemic.
It’s a bit of a myth that no-one sings the rock n roll political blues any more and whilst there was never a golden era of political music anyway it’s great to hear a band who are still awake enough to deal with the gradual encroaching clampdown with the high decibel shrapnel poetry that is like prime time Bobby Dylan jamming with Crass.
Bobby Gillespie is on the form of his life with his lyrics on the album and his genuine political soul sieved through his socialist father who stood for old school Labour in the elections years ago is as firebrand as ever and he is in the voice of his life on this record with his singing varied and confident really making sense of the exquisite musical backdrops.
River Of Pain is a poisoned blues, an near acoustic piece that packs its power by being stripped down and atmospheric- it’s one of the best tracks on the album with a droning sitar on the chorus and when it trips out to a real kooky weirdness in the middle section it’s with the help of those fantastic old players from the Sun Ra Arkestra. The song has a deceptively pastoral feel that has an innate melancholic darkness weaved into its lines as Bobby writes about the cycle of pain and violence that runs through the generations- the river of pain itself.
Culturcide sees the band wrestle with the post punk demon that was always a key strand to their music- this is the contradiction inherent in Primal Scream and has also always been part of their greatness- that eternal battle between being the swaggering rock n roll band and the strange professors of the freak underground and the post punk experimentalism. The punk generation’s battle between R’n’R and death to trad rock- both equally attractive in their theory and power and both as intriguing to anyone from generation punk when it was part of the DNA of anyone who grew up in those times and managed to love the Clash for their pure rock n roll and Metal Box for it deconstruction of rock n roll.
Culturcide itself sees the Primals very much in the latter place and it’s no surprise that Mark Stewart of the fantastic Pop Group pops up on the track’s chorus to provide a wailing vocal- after all the title was his in the first place!
Hot Void has a great free jazz brass breakdown that feels like the Saints jamming it out with the freak zone. There are so many ideas stuffed into these tracks that you wonder where Gillespie and co-writer Andrew Innes find the time to listen to all this stuff and still manage to make it so like themselves.
Tenement Kid is an electronic pulse singing for the children of the non- revolution- the sneered at poor who are now blamed for their poverty as if it was their fault.
Invisible City is classic Primals’ five knuckle guitar rock n roll that struts with a feral swagger whilst painting a vision of the city. It sounds like the perfect soundtrack for cruising late night in the cracked concrete of the city, with a romantic vision of a ride through the same city in a beat up car. It also has the added bonus of Davey Henderson from the Fire Engines playing guitar on this track as Bobby lists the flashing images of culture and people that throng on the big city streets.
Goodbye Johnny is from a pre Gun Club demo given to the band by Jeffery Lee Peirce of the genius band and was initially for some compilation album but came out so good the band decided to vamp it up for More Light. The song has the baroque beauty of the prime time Doors switching with a dreamscape looseness whilst Sideman is yet more baroque looseness sounding like sixties Egyptian street pop jamming it out with trip out era Temptations and like nothing else on earth soundtracks and the street musics of the world rolled into one consummate whole- like the album it’s utterly ambitious and utterly spell binding
Elimination Blues is a burning blues- a stroll through the dark side and the spectral shapes of rock n roll built on a loose jam, a blues from when it was scary and on its own trip- a jam turned into an epic sprawl with extra vocals added by one Robert Plant.
This is not indie- a word that can ever be said without a sneer. As a form of music indie has become the worst musical ghetto of all time- what was once a dangerous and independent music has become reduced to a handy marketing concept for pretend underground bands who play it safe.
Primal Scream may be part of the form’s history but they broke out along time ago and they exist in a universe of their own now- a universe where the real renegades are celebrated and the burning flame of creativity is stoked and doused with the petrol of madness.
Turn Each Eachother Inside Out has that esoteric Can kraut rock hypnosis about it- what the Primals remember here is that the krautrock bands were never as earnest as many of their copyists assume and that no matter how far out on limb they went they also remembered the rock n roll.
Relativity is off the scale- a mixture of strident madness of pastoral reflection- this is pure soundtrack as the band limber down towards the end of their, let’s say it again, epic album and its got sitars on the end of the track and I love sitars!
Walking With The Beast is full of narcotic bliss and comedown blues- the seeking of the other, the escape and the chemical daze and the price you have to pay.
Its Alright Its Ok, is classic Primals with that Stonesy gospel release of emotion and that bump n grind swagger that they have become so deft at- it’s the lead off single form the album and is also a bit of a red herring- sounding nothing like the rest of the record. The song closes the album perfectly but gives little clue to the previous hour’s sonic trip.
If Screamadelica was the up record of the 1989 E fuelled end of the times innocence and the noise trilogy of the nineties albums was the hangover and punctuated by the other intermittent records of strutting rock n roll, More Light is Primal Scream finding their experimental soul in a beautiful, lush trip that goes to some exotic and strange places but never loses the listener- it’s always a pop record- if you believe in the possibilities of pop.
Primal Scream remain in love with rock n roll and its endless possibilities…