The Scottish pop psychonauts in Primal Scream are back with their best in decades
“Most people in bands are usually smart enough not to say who their influences are. I was never that smart.”
Bobby Gillespie, Primal Scream frontman and full-time keeper of the faith, is on the phone from London to discuss the Scream’s new album, Chaosmosis. It’s—let’s not mince words here—utterly fantastic, easily the band’s strongest, most consistent release since the unhinged, speed-freak psychosis of 2000’s XTRMNTR. It’s also, like all of Primal Scream’s best work , a head-spinningly eclectic collection of sounds and infl uences, from floor-stomping Northern Soul to early-’80s synth grooves, spectral acoustic psych/folk to unabashed, unashamed glittering pop with a capital P. This is the Scream at its genrebending best.
From the cynic’s point of view, there’s always been the suspicion that the members of Primal Scream are little more than chancers, a motley bunch of musical trainspotters fueled by insane self-belief and a flawless record collection, a group that has spent most of its career teetering on the edge of stone-cold genius and utter stupidity.
“Aye, but see,” says Gillespie, “I used to always talk about my influences because when I first started doing interviews, I didn’t know what to say, right? So I just talked about stuff I loved. It was a way of avoiding talking about my own songs. Obviously I’m a huge fan … but it’s not like we set out to consciously sound like someone else, it’s just the history of pop music’s in our fucking DNA. The thing with this record is I just think it sounds like a Primal Scream record.”
This is most definitely a good thing. Primal Scream has always been at its most beguiling when the band soaked up its influences and managed to transcend them, embracing experimentalism along the way. (See Screamadelica or Vanishing Point as prime examples.) When these guys are lazy, jaded or uninspired, they’ve tended to drift down the retro-rawk route (Give Out But Don’t Give Up or Riot City Blues), where they’ve aimed for the ragged majesty of Exile-era Stones but ended up sounding more like a bargain-basement Black Crowes. Chaosmosis falls firmly in the former camp.
Recorded in London, New York and Stockholm, with help from Peter, Bjorn And John’s Bjorn Yttling (who also co-wrote three tracks), it’s a much more streamlined, focused a air than its predecessor, the relatively sprawling and indulgent More Light. This was a conscious decision, says Gillespie. “Our manager suggested, ‘Why don’t you write some singles?’ So it was a challenge, a good exercise in discipline.”
It’s pop but not as we know it. Delve deeper into the album, and behind the shimmering melodies lie a dark, twisted heart and lyrics that dwell on relationship breakdowns and emotional stasis. Gillespie insists it’s not based on personal experience: “I’m a happily married man, but I’m a writer, and the music just suggested that to me.”
Collaborations play a big part, as always, on Chaosmosis. In the past, the Scream, with credential-bolstering good taste, has corralled the likes of Jah Wobble, Augustus Pablo, Jaki Liebezeit and Kevin Shields. This time around, some of the band’s more seasoned fans might well raise a dubious eyebrow at the involvement of Haim and Myley Cyrus-endorsed Sky Ferreira, who both add admirably to the album’s overall pop sheen. Gillespie, however, has no time for musical snobbery, fans or no fans.
“Get them to fuck,” he says. “Really, fuck them. It’s like, I’ll apply Malcolm X’s maxim to rock ‘n’ roll, which is by any means necessary. It’s all about the art. Just like if I was a film director, it’s all about making a great picture and you cast a great actor for the right part to tell the story. And that’s what we do when we make records.”
There are some fans, though—let’s just say men of a certain age—who might be dismissive of such blatant pop acts.
“Aye, I know,” says Gillespie, “but I don’t care. We’ve always gained and lost fans. We’re making art for ourselves and putting it out, and if people get it, great. And if they don’t, fine. There’s nothing you can do about it. We refuse to be compromised by someone else’s lack of fucking vision. I mean, I don’t want to make the same record twice with the same fucking bunch of people. What’s the point of that?”