You could be forgiven for thinking of More Light, Primal Scream’s 10th album, as something of a reunion record. It’s been five years since their last album broke cover, but it is still quite remarkable that, while many of their peers have burnt out, split, reformed, cashed in and crashed out again, the Glasgow band have, despite having a revolving door policy with over 20 members, remained alive and consistent throughout.
Perhaps the secret of this longevity is their inability to step out of the limelight and to keep reinventing themselves. Like their notorious drug habits, Bobby Gillespie and co. have over the last decade been unpredictable. From the early, after-party vibe of now classic album Screamadelica, to the agitated speed addled and politically charged XTRMNTR and the straight up rock of Riot City Blues, they have consistently offered something new, albeit in the same, no holds usually barred rock ‘n’ roll style.
These days, there are less drugs, most of the original line up are present and correct, and front man Bobby Gillespie has admitted that they are no longer in the market for making ‘balls to the wall, high energy rock ‘n’ roll’. More Light finds them moving into a more sophisticated and upbeat mood, collaborating with rock royalty like Robert Plant and Mark Stewart and putting together a sprawling, psychedelic behemoth of a record that has moments of their best work within it.
More Light is as a result equal parts trippy, bluesy and upbeat, with a real sense of an effort to be multi-layered, cinematic and accomplished rather than aggressive. You are much more likely to hear a rising horn section or bouncing bass here than a neurotic synthesizer. Gillespie hasn’t given up the social commentary, but is seemingly undecided as to whether he still wants to remain political, or just enjoy some well placed ‘ooo la la’s’.
On epic nine-minute opener 2013, essentially his state of the nation speech, Gillespie is in full critique mode: “What happened to the voices of dissent? Getting rich I guess.” It’s fairly pedestrian by Primal Scream standards, even if the sentiment is timely and sentient. With My Bloody Valentine‘s Kevin Shields providing the guitar lines, it builds up powerfully until it completely envelopes your ears. Likewise Culturecide, which by its title alone should give you a hint that Gillespie is still on his soap box, is urgent and attention grabbing (he mentions Thatcher, the Holocaust and a Neutron Bomb within the first couple of minutes). But it turns out to be a layered and exciting track, with a cinematic detachment to it.
Those two tracks aside, there is less obvious social commentary here than on other Primal Scream albums. Elimination Blues, with its wah-wah guitar and ‘ah ha’s’ is moody as you like, but not even close to being as dark or controversial as Primal Scream have been in the past. Robert Plant helps out on the vocals and as a result it is more of your ‘my baby up and left me’ blues track than anything else.
There is a real contrast between the upbeat and the tripped across More Light And Relativity, a track which almost feels like it should be two separate songs typifies this. Half of it is foot stomping blues rock with various freaky noises in the backdrop until half way through when they unplug, the acoustic guitar comes out and Gillespie starts singing about “feeling everything”. It sounds like it should soundtrack the final credits to a film, drifting on as you sit there taking in the ending of what you just saw.
When they get happy, Primal Scream really are in a good place. More Light ends with It’s Alright, It’s Ok, a relentlessly optimistic track with a huge hat tip to the Rolling Stones‘ You Can’t Always Get What You Want, in both style and sentiment. After five minutes, the track fades with the band still going, surely a sign that, after all these years, there is plenty more to come from one of rock’s most enduring and inventive bands.
More Light doesn’t get straight to the point like other Primal Scream records, mainly because, unlike several of their past efforts, it is much more multi-faceted. But, as it develops, it shows off a new side to them once again, one which wants to make records which draw on their experience rather than trying to do something completely new, and that in itself puts More Light up their with their best.