On Primal Scream‘s Beautiful Future, the customarily angsty and vaguely paranoid political rhetoric of Bobby Gillespie’s lyrics is married to a selection of retro sounds which push the ‘upbeat’ button more often than, say, anything on 1999 album XTRMNTR. Presumably the plan is to infuse a little piquant invective – as Ben Elton put it, “a liddle bit o’ politics” – into the brains of factory workers, office drones and old grey men whistling along to the radio. Then, rise up, smash the oppressors, seize nirvana; a beautiful future indeed.
Except that it’s difficult to get over the prescriptive nature of such an idea and find much soul behind it. What happened to truth, and beauty, and creating art from the heart? And anyway, isn’t it a little patronising to assume that we’re somatised automatons, waiting for the rock god to lead us out of the shadows?
Bobby G is in danger of turning into one of those grumpy, manipulative, rich old white men he so despises – although obviously with nattier clothes and a better haircut. Mind you, it’s also possible to read the sentiments as being directed by Gillespie at Gillespie, as a form of self-chastisement resulting from his status as part of the rock establishment. It’s unnecessarily charitable to believe he wants listeners to rise up and cut him down, however.
There’s no doubt the band are committed to looking like they have their finger on the pulse, with Björn Yttling of Scandi whistlers Peter Bjorn and John, and Bloc Party knob-twiddler Paul Epworth, producing. CSS‘s pretty vacant fashion idol singer Lovefoxxx hisses in the background on I Love To Hurt (You Love To BeHurt), and in what is possibly an odd nod to Guilty Pleasures, a cover of Fleetwood Mac‘s Over And Over involving Linda Thompson (folk! It’s well hip, Bobby!) features.
Opener Beautiful Future clangs bells, choruses oh-oh, and stabs simply at a jolly, repetitive piano melody while Gillespie lectures with “you’re only free to buy the things you can afford.” Worryingly, Uptown adopts a walking-pace rhythm that’s no doubt influenced by the vogue for rediscovering the ’80s – yet here, the step is closer toScottish cohorts Texas.
Subtlety is at a premium too, with Zombie Man conforming to the Scream’s blueprint for the ugly Rolling Stones-y blues-rocker (think Give Out But Don’t Give Up, rather than Riot City Blues). Gillespie’s love of the band Suicide is well documented, and I Love To Hurt pulses with the fast pss-tsh-pss-tsh rhythm Alan Vega’s group made their trademark.
Clichéd rawk guitar lines – guest twanger Josh Homme, consider yourself suitably chastised – on Necro Hex Blues; washy synths on Can’t Go Back; crass lyrics on Suicide Bomb (“Black hair, dress so tight/If looks could kill”) mean it’s surprising that the record has legs enough to stand, but a honed sense of professionalism, one that combines the themes of the band’s eight previous studio albums, saves the ensemble. The inclusion of a second, single version of The GloryOf Love is certainly unnecessary, but may shift a few copies of said single. Music that pays the mortgage is hardly rock ‘n’ roll, though, is it?