October 27, 2015

Album review: Primal Scream – More Light

In a three-decade career, Scottish purveyors of psychedelic pop, Primal Scream, have covered much varied sonic ground. From the drug-and-dance-infused psychedelia of 1991’s Mercury Prize winning Screamadelica to 2000’s punk-electronica protest record Xtrmntr, Primal Scream are infamous for drawing on a rich musical history and contorting and stretching it into weird and exciting sounds.

If unpredictability is the yardstick, the band’s 10th studio release More Light certainly measures up. Stylistically, it’s an amalgamation of the band’s entire sound catalogue, with a few more sonic tricks thrown in to keep you guessing. Lead man Bobby Gillespie himself told Spin their intentions were “to make an expansive experimental psychedelic pop record.” At this they have succeeded, with the emphasis on expansive. The latest from Bobby G, now five years sober, and guitarist Andrew Innes (plus a slew of others) is one of the band’s boldest, lush and sprawling works yet. And yes, it’s long.

The epic opener, 2013, is a nine-minute, warped sax-driven protest rant, craftily showcasing Gillespie’s political chops and the band’s tech-pop credentials. Harking back to Screamadelica days, the track is as filled with as much musical attitude as lyrical. Gillespie laments the absence of youth revolution “what happened to the voices of dissent? Getting rich I guess”, whilst simultaneously rebuking “Thatcher’s children” and the chairman of BP. Disingenuous perhaps. Gillespie is not the most literary of lyricists and his bemoaning can come across more whining middle-aged rocker than revolutionary anarchist. But 30 years in the business buys you some leeway.

River of Pain is of a slightly different ilk. Drawing from the expertise of producer David Holmes, this track conjures up a more cinematic vibe. Predominately instrumental, Gillespie’s whispering lyrics are quickly swallowed by sinister strings and hypnotic riffs. Layered sounds wind and meander through cinematic soundscapes, shifting genres a couple times throughout. While it starts off in the realm of sci-fi, at around the five-and-a-half minute mark you might as well be listening to the soundtrack of a spaghetti western.

And then there are the collabarations. That orchestral interlude in the middle of River of Pain is courtesy of the legendary Sun Ra Arkestra. Fate in the form of an erupting Icelandic volcano (bringing world-wide air travel to a standstill) brought the collaboration about. They also feature on the track Sideman. My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields features on 2013 and the Pop Group’s Mark Stewart on Culturecide. Then there’s veteran Robert Plant lending his bluesy rasp to the stomps, echoes and distressed guitar of Elimination Blues. Apparently 30 years in the industry also buys you friends.

So yes, it’s by no means a short listen. With 13 tracks together running around 70 minutes long, the second half in particular could benefit from some thoughtful editing. But brevity has never really been Primal Scream’s style. And five-minute experimental interludes notwithstanding, More Light is still Primal Scream’s most ambitious and exciting record in a decade.