Thursday, 13 June 2013

Primal Scream - More Light


For over twenty years, Primal Scream have remained one of those bands that show little remorse for what their blunt, untinged objectives manage to envisage. While they've unfortunately found themselves cast aside from the main limelight of UK rock music post-Screamadelica...the conclusion is that they appear fairly comfortable about it. Bobby Gillespie [Scream's frontman] remains one of the few figures in modern-day British rock to profess a strong sense of realization and reaction to what is going on around him, while at the same time making sure any suggestion of political motivation or philosophical bantering is not without its origin. For a man who had first found fame (albeit partial mention in the revivalist circle of 80's post-punk) as the drummer for The Jesus And Mary Chain, it's exciting to see Gillespie still finding the strength and the ambition to push himself and his feelings through music; into a 21st century setting that, to him, is as alien as Screamadelica was to the masses when it first dropped. The recent 20th anniversary reissuing of the band's 1991 classic, along with a nationwide tour of the album, could not have come at a more perfect time as a result; newcomers and long-time fans (myself included) alike being reminded as to how enthralling a sound Scream had created. While recent offerings have delivered less-than-enthralling experiences, Gillespie and co. remain understandably brunt into claiming 2013 for Scream's assailable self.  

More Light may sound like a mere extension and flexing of the psychedelic muscles, but there's definitely a feeling that the energy and bold eccentricity of past records, has finally returned. Bold is the exact word I'd use to announce the band's decision to start proceedings with not only the lead single 2013, but at nine minutes, it definitely shows an unmerited level of bravery in how this thirteen track record introduces itself. Fortunately, it's this same manner of bravery and boldness that goes into their production values as well as their performance, and for that the greeting is overwhelmingly positive. The track here is a definitive call to any and all criticism of age and austerity; pounding drums (that gradually swell in hi-hat hits and cymbal crashes), heavy guitars and subversive brass igniting the music to that of a euphoric blunderbuss of energy. All the while, Gillespie high-octane vocals strike through with little to no difficulty; at the age of 50, Scream's front-man is straight-off-the-bat bold and brash with his lyricism and energizing in his delivery. Moving swiftly to follower River Of Pain, and the transition from concert hall-beating euphoric to late evening dusty ballad is captivating, and quite marveled. Guitars here are more the centre-piece, acoustic strings and electric sweeps casting the song as far from the venue halls and more onto this sand-swept, almost Arabian setting coaxed in flavoursome percussion and a blend that feels a lot more heartfelt but not overly intimate. But it's the transition between the track's broad, screech of string arrangements and layered chaos that is the biggest stand-out here; moments that give the track a far more colourfully cinematic and dynamic variance for which to either lavish the listener's eyes with, or lambast it with emotive madness. 

But the band know full well when to treat their tracks more as songs than experiences.  Culturecide, the first less-than-five minute track, is one of the first throw-backs to earlier albums; Gillespie's whispered, ear-poking delivery reminiscent of the band's Vanishing Point-era experimentalism. The more crisp textures of guitar and drums too find the band reminiscing as well as redefining their 90's sound in a track equally affray with passion as it is provoked by emotional suffocation and frustration. 'Living like a refugee in your country' Gillespie repeats behind back-and-forth flings of electric guitars and heavy drumbeats - the hushed elephant-in-the-room to the music's brash, everywhere-at-once exertion. There's no denying this album is full of tracks that drive and come off like fully-fledged vehicles stuck in the highest gear. But speed isn't necessarily what gives these tracks their desired momentum. Rather, as is the case with the track Hit Void, Scream's intentions feel more concentric and aligned; reactive to one's own state as opposed to what might be taking place somewhere else. It's interesting, because from what lyrical subject matter we've already taken (the state of culture, of society, of a nation's people), the song initially comes off as retaliatory. But once you get into the song's main archaic thrust of octane guitar relay and upfront drum deliveries, the music gains a lot more of a combustible and self-inflicting quality that neither damages the piece, but at the same time doesn't greater the lengths at which the track seems to go to. There's a focus more on the guitar layering - mounts of reverb and relay running rampant throughout - but there's still the usual orthodox brass sections and cookie-crumbling scenario in how this track might...but eventually doesn't...cap off proceedings in a more wilder or dramatic fashion.

Invisible City then might be where Primal Scream succeed in both balancing this resurgence of energy, and making sure their music doesn't trick the listener in perceiving to be one of tremendous build riding into the eye of the storm. The meshing of bass and drum to provide the track its upbeat, pompous rhythm is what allows Gillespie to ride the track like many a past dance-like exposition of colour and tone. 'I love this city/Such a beautiful city' is what becomes the track's signature call-sign to let loose, but at the same time it doesn't end up losing itself in blissfully sustaining the track. Sure the level of guitars and drums are equally quite high, but they too don't end up overshadowing what is a very attractive groove and swing of brass. There's more of a confident and robust detail of lyrics because of it: 'But we're the streets of hallucination/Stretched faces like a Bacon painting/And then they dry in the neon sunshine'. So while the band's lowly solitude-type ballads - albeit ones backed by the cautious monotony of synthesizers - in the likes of Goodbye Johnny are easily passable and forgettable for their sheer lack in definitive colour or conviction, their more resurgent compositions in Sideman not only suit them, but actually come off as if they, the band, actually enjoy playing it. Even when the musical dictation of a piece isn't entirely present or tend to feel a few rungs lower, tracks like Elimination Blues offer Gillespie the opportunity to explore a more harmonic delivery with his vocals. And it's the backing support - here, offering a fairly synthesizer-built track a sense of emotion and character - that at the very least shun the view away from the track's less-evolutionary delivery, in comparison to its previous counterparts. 


So it gradually becomes clear that the second part of this album lacks in something. Not necessarily a something that objectively casts this half in a state of fault or disadvantage, but without question, a feeling that Scream are clearly hoping to tread new ground, if lacking somewhat in the former half's boldness and unchallenged confidence. Tracks like Turn Each Other Inside Out focus on simpler leads, but the execution by the bass guitar loses none of its momentum and right of passage because of this. For them, the rhythm and the pacing remains a clear and concreted part of Scream's appeal. And while the instrumental exploration is lesser here, it's not a track that's going to end up near the bottom of the ranks because of its longevity and/or its ambition. That's another word that comes up many a time while listening to this record: ambition. It's a term that rightly reflects Scream's desire to hold onto their renowned mix of electronic playfulness and rock sturdiness, but making sure the concoctions actually translate as formulated answers, as opposed to spur-of-the-moment ideas. Moments such as that on Relativity present Scream as a band that are not afraid to take risks, and the results they make for themselves are definitive spots of intrigue. What starts as this steadily building piece - emphasis put on the positioning of percussion and electric guitar feedback - by the half-way mark drastically shifts into a sound far more acoustic and almost as if seeking a more withdrawn and nestled visual of sound. 

Walking With The Beast may also be one of Scream's less-substantial and more laid-back approaches, but unlike previous attempts, Gillespie's whispering, smoke-like vocals play to the track's identical reach of stripped guitar strings and distant cymbal taps. And on album closer It's Alright, It's OK, the band bring that familiar gospel-inspired resurgence their previous albums are equally renowned for. Gillespie proves once more his vocal skills remain strongly adept to a wider field than conventional rock. There's an obvious positivity and optimism about the track, 'You can fix it once it's been broken/Take your time, walk away/You can close it once it's open' but this reassurance isn't in anyway demeaning or ill-advised. Gillespie's uplifting lenience - backed by the strong presence of gospel backing -is what gives the music, which isn't exactly as pompous or grand as previous tracks, that reassuring confidence to push on, and despite the comfort and ease the track seems to remain at, it doesn' go as far as to demote the overwhelming feeling of positivity here.

Experiencing Screamadelica live some two years ago was one of the most refreshing and rejuvenating moments that I've come face to face with in what is still, to most, a rather meager backlog of live experiences (though I am working on it). Two years have passed and More Light sounds ever more the welcome return to form for one of Britain's most notorious and interesting rock outfits of the past twenty five years. Rivaling that of the likes of Vanishing Point and XTRMNTR more-so, this could easily be Scream's respectable go-to for those who wish to see the band exploring the post-punk 80's influences their sound has been rooted in, as well as the varying intrigues of harmonization and unison Gillespie spurs into proceedings from the likes of gospel to acid house to psychedelia. And while the album does bumble and trip over itself at times in moments of momentum-lacking fluster - the more accoustic attempts chancing the band's sound into more humbler settings - it doesn't marginalize the greater good Scream achieve in exploring the relation between groove, progression and experimentation with such lively measures of organic and synthetic sound alike. The Scream of More Light may be different to that of the Screamdelica era, but for anyone who hasn't been following the who's-in-who's-out of the band over the years - even if long-time bassist Mani was one of the more conspicuous (and understandable) departures - they may find it difficult to pick holes in the resulting argument here: Primal Scream are back with as much a colourful, as it is an ecstatic, vengeance.
~Jordan

7.9

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