In 1990, Primal Scream burst upon the scene with their exuberant, funky and utterly infectious song Loaded, which was an essential cut from the year’s soundtrack and captured the hedonism of the time. Whippet-like Scottish frontman Bobby Gillespie and his band went on to capture the first Mercury Music Prize for their album Screamadelica in 1992.
The upbeat vibe didn’t crash and burn there – the Scream propelled Rocks into the top 10 in 1994 which had the nation whirling like dervishes. As the band’s longevity grew, Gillespie and a changed line-up decided to explore the musical elsewhere, and came up with the growling Kowalski, which saw a darker, harder edge become the Scream’s sound.
New offering Evil Heat takes us further away from the happy days of the ’90s. Gillespie even prefers to leave Loaded off his gig set list. The song titles say it all before even having a listen – Miss Lucifer, The Lord Is My Shotgun and Skull X suggest a touch of the night infesting Gillespie’s lyrical mind.
The single Miss Lucifer is a brisk slice of dance-flavoured industrial rock in which Gillespie intones “shake the baby” – and the grimy underbelly gets even seedier as the album progresses. Swirling, solid electronic rock stakes a claim for Detroit as Evil Heat’s worryingly irresistible stand-out track – but Gillespie remains downbeat, growling “I destroy everything I touch,” while violence bubbles up in his lyrics. Rise continues the air of grunge to great effect in a pounding cacophony of rock, electronica and a chanting chorus for disciples to raise their fists to. But this lot certainly aren’t happy bunnies.
In all this doom and gloom, Primal Scream have imbibed a smattering of musical influences. The gritty Lord Is My Shotgun has a tang of Garbage about it. The rocking, raw City places them smack bang alongside contemporary noise-makers The Hives and The Vines, as dread turns to snarling, pouting, in-your-face punk. Gillespie and his cohorts’ taste for retro extends from punk rock to early ’80s electronic pop, finishing off Evil Heat with the very calm, ethereal Space Blues 2 – suggesting they aren’t so angst-ridden and hard-bitten after all.
Fine vocalist Denise Johnson added her talents to Primal’s exuberant years. Now, we have none other than supermodel Kate Moss, who performs on a cover of Nancy Sinatra‘s Some Velvet Morning. In true style for one of the beautiful people, the track is an ultra-cool dance number. It’s a shame the same cannot be said for Moss’s weedy vocals – but at least they are mere window dressing here.
The positive, uplifting energy of the Primal Scream of old has been buried for good with this new album, with the mercurial Bobby Gillespie one of their few enduring features. A mix of industrial rock, hard-edged dance and electronic wizardry is decidedly downbeat in feel and focuses on the bad things in life – this is not an album to feel the love to.
But while it’s easy to pine for the good old days, there is something wickedly attractive and engaging about the Scream’s 21st century dinginess.