Release Date: Mar 18, 2016
Record label: Ignition Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Primal Scream hold perhaps one of the most curious positions occupied by any legendary band of the last few decades. They’ve made two undeniably brilliant albums in ‘Screamdelica’ and ‘XTRMNTR’, yet those two albums sound barely alike. They’ve become a reliable well of inspiration for countless new bands, yet have never really settled on a style long enough to become that.
When Primal Scream truly hit their groove, there's no resisting the overpowering engulf of their omnipresent psychedelic disco. Bobby Gillespie and co. are masters of hypnotics at this point, their immersive signature baggy tumult as undeniable as it is effortless. Pop music seems to have the same effect on even the musicians most estranged with commercial ethos.
With Primal Scream’s breakthrough album Screamadelica celebrating its 25th anniversary, it’s clear that the band’s smash third record has been on Bobby Gillespie’s mind lately. After years of experimentation, touching on everything from industrial to trip-hop to psychedelica, the Scottish band’s 11th studio album, Chaosmosis, is something of a homecoming, returning to the sounds that first gave them international fame. Revisiting the acid house leanings of their early ’90s records might be an exercise in nostalgia.
For a band that released their first record over 30 years ago, Primal Scream have never been ones to rest on their laurels. Taking risks and confounding expectations with every subsequent release - occasionally getting it wrong but for the most part, confronting the zeitgeist full on and hitting the spot in the process. It's difficult to choose any one particular era or guise of the band as being the most productive or incisive.
Primal Scream should not be the kind of band people still care about, much less one who in 2016 gets to handpick Sky Ferreira and HAIM to take a break from sophomore-album woodshedding and act as duet partners. These guys, after all, named their debut album Sonic Flower Groove in 1987; the Spin Doctors called, yada yada yada. They came up with Madchester and hung in there through shoegaze and big beat, despite more than one ill-advised attempt to do for Britain what the Black Crowes did Stateside (which was — respectfully — nothing).
The ever-thrawn Scream’s 11th album will vex tasteful types who hailed 2013’s darkly grooving More Light as their best since XTRMNTR, returning as it does to short, sharp, shiny songs. They’ve also turned inwards, Bobby Gillespie’s lyrics less concerned with “the dead heart of the control machine” than the light heart of the reformed man. Trippin’ on Your Love opens on cheesy Screamadelica rave piano and a cocky riff with powerhouse backing vocals from Haim, while Sky Ferreira pops up on Where the Light Gets In, whose dance-rock rush borrows its healing message from Sufi mystic Rumi (the album’s cringey title, meanwhile, comes from a book by French psychologist Félix Guattari).
Their wild, thrillingly unpredictable years of experimentation may be well behind them, but after three decades Primal Scream are by no means a spent force. Their last album, the excellent More Light (2013), showed the band re-energised following a stale period. Now, their 11th studio album moves away from that layered psychedelic rock texture to a lighter, cleaner-cut sound.
Primal Scream’s last album, 2013’s More Light, felt like a victory lap: after reinventing their sound countless times over the preceding decades, here was Bobby Gillespie and gang showing everything off for the cameras. So it’s understandable that the band seem unsure where to go next. Chaosmosis is caught between another attempt at reinvention – this time as a slightly lightweight synth-pop outfit – and replicating More Light’s greatest hits approach.
In their 30-year career, Primal Scream have demonstrated a savvy for keeping themselves current. They joined the anorak convention with their cut "Velocity Girl" on the C86 compilation; helped push acid house into the mainstream with 1991's rave-rock symbiosis Screamadelica; and then pushed rock to new extremes with 2000's punktronica assault XTRMTR. That drive still animates them today: At a time when the remaining bands of their vintage are locked into the album-retrospective tour circuit or releasing pro-forma records, Primal Scream’s 11th full-length, Chaosmosis, sees them keeping pace with 21st-century pop, recruiting new-school divas Sky Ferreira and Haim in an admirable attempt to keep their median audience age on the shy side of 40.
If there's one exception to the rule that you can't teach an old dog new tricks, it's Primal Scream. Despite turning 35 years old next year, the veteran Scottish band still have the ability to sound as fresh as any up-and-coming act's debut. Reteaming with Peter Bjorn & John's Bjorn Yttling, who produced the bulk of 2008's Beautiful Future, the Scream may have felt like it was business as usual, but on Chaosmosis, they've tapped into the zeitgeist whether they know it or not.
Primal Scream‘s waiflike but coolly charismatic captain Bobby Gillespie clearly knows how pop works. In the 30-plus years he’s been in the boogie game, he’s crafted some absolute bangers. “Country Girl”, “Movin’ on Up”, “Rocks”, “Loaded”. This was daring ‘Trojan Horse’ pop as amongst the rumpshakin’ dancers the Scream smuggled gun totin’ revolutionaries like “Miss Lucifer”, “Swastika Eyes” and “Kill All Hippies”.
With its ersatz zeitgeisty commentary, the mish-mash title is, of course, a nightmare. Judge this one not by its cover but by electric lead single Where the Light Gets In: a barrage of neon club pop lit up by the astute addition of Sky Ferreira. At least half of Chaosmosis matches its vitality; the only real stinker is opener Trippin' On Your Love, a happy-clappy rave generation anthem even The Shamen might have passed on.
High-voltage disco-punk heavyweights return with more energy than originality. Struggling to reclaim their mojo in recent years, following the departure of Mani and Kevin Shields, Primal Scream have yet to deliver a killer album this century to match their beloved 1990s peaks. ADVERTISINGinRead invented by Teads .
You wouldn’t like Primal Scream when they’re angry. Or maybe you would. The band’s second-wind masterpiece, the vowelless and grim XTRMNTR, squeezed industrial beats and scorching overdrive from anti-corporate, anti-government rage. More Light, the more recent 2013 comeback from the Scream, summoned some of the old bile, railing against “elected criminals,” “legalized crime,” and the Iron Lady (Thatcher) herself.
Few products of the Manchester rave scene of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s have proven to share the longevity of Primal Scream. Where the short-lived ecstasy of the Madchester movement resulted in the rapid rise and fall of groups like the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays, their penchant for repeated sonic reinventions has helped them sustain what is approaching a 30-year career. Of course, Bobby Gillespie and his band didn’t start with the Madchester movement but as a C86 indie pop band, making even the music they’re chiefly remembered for the result of a drastic change in sound.
From the outside, Primal Scream seem suitably chaotic, flitting between noise-skronk explorations and dub operas, but there's one truism that applies to the bulk of their career: if they delivered a good album last time around, they'll stumble on the next. More Light, the messy, candy-colored, psychedelic opus they delivered in 2013, found the band at something near their best, so it only follows that 2016's Chaosmosis would be something of a mess -- and it is, only in an unexpected fashion. Similar to how Evil Heat represented a diminishment of XTRMNTR -- the back-to-back highlights Vanishing Point and XTRMNTR being the exceptions that proves the Primal Scream rule -- Chaosmosis finds the band scaling back its predecessor, narrowing its vistas so drastically it often seems as if the group cobbled it together on an old Casio.
The title of Primal Scream’s 11th album might sound like something band leader Bobby Gillespie dreamt up while under the influence, but ‘Chaosmosis’ is actually a highfalutin reference to French psychotherapist Félix Guattari. His 1992 book of the same name argues human subjectivity is shaped by phenomena outside the “faculties of the soul”, specifically language, mass media and technology. Applying that idea to these songs is an almighty stretch, but more pertinent is Gillespie’s own definition of the word as wisdom gleaned from madness – and ‘madness’ is surely how the Primal Scream of yore would’ve dismissed the notion of making a record about sobriety and recovery.
Primal Scream are often pegged as masters of reinvention, having skipped between acid house, industrial rock, electro-pop and swampy southern blues rock over three decades. On their 11th album, the Scottish rockers tear a page out of the Swedish book of pop songwriting, but the move is not so much a new sound as a sharpening of one that's been there all along. With assistance from producer Björn Yttling of Peter Bjorn and John, Bobby Gillespie and company pair upbeat, mostly electronic-led productions with melancholic subject matter - namely their frontman winning a well-publicized battle with drug addiction - thereby revelling in that magical formula perfected and popularized by Swedish pop heavyweights ABBA.
Over the course of three decades and 11 albums, Scotland’s Primal Scream can do no wrong in the eyes of its audience. The band is raw rock ’n’ roll at its core, and how that manifests itself in each release is changeable, giving Primal Scream both reliability and unpredictability. The group’s latest studio album, the self-produced Chaosmosis, moves along a groove curve, more synthesizer than guitar driven.
When a band has been active for as long as Primal Scream, new releases tend to be approached with trepidation. Their expansive back catalogue is peppered with major highs and genre busting creativity, but when they go into default Mick ‘n Keef mode, it results in pretty average albums (Give Out But Don’t Give Up from ‘94, 2006’s career nadir, Riot City Blues). They’re dangerously close to that time again.
For a band who've spent the best part of three and a half decades trying to make a virtue of haphazardly breezing through disparate genres, you'd think Primal Scream would have stumbled upon one they liked the sound of. Or, at the very least, a few that played to the strengths of gruff frontman Bobby Gillespie & Co. and their itinerant spirits. For those not familiar with their canon, they've toyed with everything from day-glo pop (Beautiful Future) and garage blues bar-boogie (Riot City Blues) to the angry, aggressive industrial dance of XTRMNTR and a whole lot in between.