Kate Bradley gives Primal Scream’s new album 4 Stars
Primal Scream have been releasing albums since 1987. The iconic Screamadelica (1991) received a Mercury Prize, widespread critical acclaim and spawned some of the most famous indie tracks of the decade – who hasn’t seen summer in with a drunken rendition of ‘Movin On Up’, or grimaced as an overenthusiastic uncle stripped to ‘Get Your Rocks Off’? Okay, maybe that’s not universal, but everything about Screamadelica was warm, playful, optimistic – it combined Beck’s chilled out vibes with soulful Americana and the dancefloor beats of Manchester, imploring revelry, merriment and ill-advised karaoke all over the shop. A phenomenal 22 years later, Primal Scream are still releasing albums, but not always to the same positive critical reception. The Telegraph called 2008’s Beautiful Future “another of their regressions into rock classicism. The Guardian asked, “Is any contemporary artist cut quite as much slack as Primal Scream?”
The first track on More Light is ‘2013’, a massive prog-rock amalgam punctuated by strained cries of – you guessed it – “2013!” The choice to date the album so confidently says something about Primal Scream’s agenda on More Light: rather than writing repetitive but timeless tunes for the classic rock canon, they’re going for something much more political, topical and experimental this time. (This is a welcome break from Riot City Blues and Beautiful Future, which deserved their mixed reception.) To call this album ‘experimental’ is not to say that the experiment Primal Scream are attempting is entirely new, but it’s certainly compelling: tracks like ‘Culturecide’ and ‘Turn Each Other Inside Out’ are disorientating on first listen, which is always a good sign. The combination of traditional rock instruments, digital sounds, horns, wind instruments, singing and rapping across More Light collocates elements of genres which are often seen as oppositional, bringing them together very successfully.
The least appealing track on More Light is the single, precisely because it isn’t doing what the rest of the album manages so admirably: breaking the mould. ‘It’s Alright, It’s OK’ evokes Screamadelica in every bar, from the feel-good chorus to the gimmicky gospel. If the single has the effect of drawing in a mainstream audience for the band, it’s possibly worthwhile – but don’t rule out listening to More Light on the basis of its derivative lead track. It’s great to hear an ‘indie’ band offering something grittier and more socially engaged than introspective love songs and self-comment, even when there are cringe-worthy lyrics like “legalise crime!” in amongst the gems. More Light isn’t going to fill dancefloors and excite uncles in the same way as Primal Scream could in 1991, but it’s one of the best releases of the year so far.