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The Strokes did it, Arctic Monkeys did it, Bloc Party did it, Kaiser Chiefs still think it’s funny when they do it and now Primal Scream, on their new album More Light, join the horde of British bands who’ve noticed that telly isn’t as good as it used to be. Music stinks. People aren’t reading enough. What’s with pre-pubescent girls that dress like post-menopausal streetwalkers? People are just interested in money. I know, right? I guess nobody told them that culture-centric criticism isn’t a substitute for actual culture, no matter how witty, melodic or well-informed it is.
More Light opens with a reminder of that sentiment in the form of lead single 2013. Bobby Gillespie has this knack for knowing what century we’re in. It’s a relief that the band has decided to ditch the bar band pastoralism that led to some of the corniest moments ever to be rendered AAX. The music is a propulsive and moody union of Steve Mackay-style saxophone and Small Faces tom-tom rock, which are damaged by the relentless sloganeering that surrogate actual lyrics.
This brings us to River Of Pain. Many Primal Scream songs post-XTRMNTR are like sections of a film score about a guy who’s a total badass and all he does is badass all day and night. He badasses in the morning and then eats a badass lunch to fuel his badassery for the rest of the day and holy shit, what a badass! River Of Pain is one those songs. Middle Eastern-style guitar, bongo polyrhythms and hazy vocals like they’re merely the accompaniment to an exhalation of pot smoke. And then, an orchestral deluge. Van Dyke Parks-style strings and ceremonial horns, trills and stirs and heroic atmospherics, which disappear to reveal the repeating Middle Eastern-style guitar riff like a murderer returning to the scene of the crime.
Culturecide. “Breeze block prison / Somebody’s home / Feels like I’ve been hit by a neutron bomb / A neutron bomb / A neutron bomb…” It’s like the most cringe-inducing poetry slam performance you could ever have the unfortunate luck of being forced to sit through. It continues in such ham-handed (and blockheaded) fashion for the rest of the song. The chorus is merely a litany of the title, as if repeating “culturecide” over and over will brute force it into relevance. That seems to be the idea behind most of the choruses on More Light. Culturecide, 2013, Hit Void, Invisible City all feature the same ilk of lazy songwriting.
Tenement Kid stands out as an achievement. Every chance Bobby Gillespie gives you to dismiss him as just a boneheaded dullard with a hard-on for the cinematic, he pulls a golden rope out of his top hat and lassos himself out of the hole he was mouldering in. The chorus, once again a repetition, “I don’t know why, I don’t know why, I don’t know why”, is an unsettling and forlorn cry. The lament of a man with “Rats in [his] head / Stones in [his] shoe”. And while the bridge is an unfortunate wane, “Something is broken / Always unspoken”, it’s a small price to pay to listen to a man drawn and quartered by his id.
The second half is a montage of filler and quality that’s mostly a result of interesting production. More Light is a frustrating listen. It provides beautiful reminders of what Primal Scream can do that no other band in the world can. Other tracks would be embarrassing if it weren’t for the explicit knowledge that Gillespie doesn’t give a fuck either way. The rest are just forgettable. The band sound kinetic and alive, distilling the boom-crash schizophrenia of Primal Scream’s music down to an art form. But it’s Gillespie, who chases grandeur like a dog pursuing an ambulance, that forces the music to follow when his head goes into his own ass. More Light could have been an epic record, if only it wasn’t trying so hard to be epic.