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You’ve got to say this for Primal Scream: No one has ever been able to fault the band for falling into a rut. Since its beginnings in the early ’80s, this bunch of changelings from Glasgow has produced jangle-pop (their 1987 debut long-player, Sonic Flower Groove), Ecstasy-fueled dance-rock (their trend-setting breakthrough album, 1991’s Screamadelica), Stones-y hard rock (1994’s ill-received Give Out but Don’t Give Up), and aggressive digital hardcore (2000’s XTRMNTR). Most drug smugglers have had fewer identities.
Generally, though, the group’s albums have been internally consistent. Ex-Jesus and Mary Chain drummer and head Screamer Bobby Gillespie may well suffer from ADD, but he and his mates—guitarists Andrew Innes, Robert “Throb” Young, and Kevin Shields; keyboardist Martin Duffy; bassist Gary “Mani” Mounfield; drummer Darrin Mooney, and horn players Jim Hunt and Duncan Mackay—have usually managed to confine themselves to one trend per album before moving on to the next Next Big Thing.
Gillespie must be forgetting to take his Ritalin, though, because the new Evil Heat is all over the damn place. The disc bounces crazily from genre to genre like a Super Ball in a china shop, leaving its listeners continually nervous that something’s about to get smashed into a million tiny bits. We get techno, krautrock, blues, Iggy Pop-style raunch ‘n’ roll, some nasty-wonderful Velvet Underground-esque drone-rock, and even a Ladytron-flavored futuredisco duet between Gillespie and a supermodel.
Obviously, albums like this one are hit-or-miss propositions: a hit with eclectically minded people who don’t mind straying, like gypsies, across the boundaries of musical space, and a miss with most everybody else. If you’re like me, you’ll like some of the songs on Evil Heat a lot while wishing that the rest of the songs on Evil Heat sounded less like what they sound like and more like the songs on Evil Heat you like a lot. If you follow my drift.
Thus, though I’ve got no use whatsoever for the hardcore dance rhythms that propel “Miss Lucifer” and “Detroit”—my own dancing days having ended around the time Chicago released “Color My World”—they’ll likely go down well with the black-lipstick set. “Miss Lucifer” is your standard club thumper, Primal Scream’s salute to drum machines and methamphetamines. The lyrics celebrate a dance-floor demoness of the black-clad variety—y’know, the kind who wears leather boots and a “Nazi hat.” Personally, I’ve been waiting all my life to meet a girl in leather boots and a Nazi hat, but this Miss Lucifer turns out to be all talk and no action—Gillespie’s frequent cries of “All night long” and “Shake it, baby” notwithstanding.
Similarly, “Detroit,” a pounding, keyboard-heavy number sung by the Jesus and Mary Chain’s Jim Reid, is full of dance-floor sound and fury, but signifies—well, I’m not sure what it’s supposed to signify. Does Reid like Detroit? Hate Detroit? Whatever: When he sings “I destroy everything I touch,” you’re inclined to believe him—especially when it comes to pounding, keyboard-heavy numbers sung by the Jesus and Mary Chain’s Jim Reid.
Don’t care for all that industrial-dance nonsense? Well, all you Germanophiles are guaranteed to dig the accelerated cool of “Autobahn 66.” A hypnotic nod to the greatness of Kraftwerk and Neu!, the track, with its synthetic whooshes and motorik drumming, proves that you don’t have to be a Teuton to get the Kraut on. Ditto for “A Scanner Darkly,” a bouncy instrumental that opens with some fuzzy-wuzzy guitar riffage before directing you back to the autobahn, only this time in a car full of bass-mad fools on their way to the Love Parade.
If you’re one of those who doesn’t like either industrial noise or the Fatherland, don’t worry: Evil Heat has you covered, most notably on the undoubtedly soon-to-be NRA-approved “The Lord Is My Shotgun.” A distorted blues featuring muffled Lennon-esque vocals, a banshee guitar, and the harp-playing of the hirsute-chested Robert Plant, the song is manna to anyone who believes that happiness is a warm gun and a hefty dose of rock ‘n’ roll bluster. In a similar vein, Primal Scream also offers up “City,” which features junk-sick guitars and Sterno-slurred vocals. The lyrics have something to do with a girl who just “crawled out of a garbage can” and how this “Sick city/Gonna be the death of me.” Truly, Iggier sounds have never been made by non-Stooges.
Way back in the Screamadelica days, Gillespie once boasted that he was “higher than the sun.” Well, somebody must have harshed the boy’s buzz since then, because death, if you haven’t guessed already, is definitely on his mind. In fact, the only anthem to the sun he can come up with this time around is the bummerific “Deep Hit of Morning Sun,” the album’s lugubrious opener. Trancelike and almost Slowdive-static, the track features lots of fuzzed-up guitars and a decidedly Manson-esque vibe: “I can see/Death in me/Death in you/Love is good.” Also on the Manson tip is the bass-propelled “Rise,” which decries the military-industrial complex and “sweet 16 dehumanized.” Sure, Gillespie’s lyrical targets are obvious, but when the guitars start up like some berserk combine and Gillespie and his bandmates sing “Rise/Rise/Rise/Rise,” you’ll think Helter Skelter is really comin’ down.
Of course, I don’t believe any album is complete without a Nancy Sinatra song featuring the vocal stylings of Kate Moss. Fortunately, “Some Velvet Morning” fits the bill quite nicely. Some supersmooth synths introduce a hushed vocal by Gillespie; the lyrics (“Some velvet morning when I’m straight/I’m gonna open up your gate”) fall firmly into the “Why, if I weren’t so strung out, I’d…” school of explaining away sexual dysfunction. All of this leads up to a sexy chorus intoned by none other than the Queen of the Catwalk herself. And guess what? She can sing. Certainly by contemporary indie standards. She does a spot-on imitation of Ladytron’s Helen Marnie, come to think of it. And with Moss around, who needs Marnie?
In the end, though, the only tune on Evil Heat I’d consider jumping in front of a bullet for is the amazing, synapse-skewering “Skull X.” “That’s short for, skull exploding. It’s like a fucking guitar holocaust,” says Gillespie in the press kit, and for once he ain’t just posturing. I have waited decades for some guitarist to throw good taste to the wind and just whip it out the way Lou Reed did on “I Heard Her Call My Name.” And goddamn if Primal Scream’s three don’t pull it off, by taking some of the bloodiest six-stringing My Bloody Valentine mainman Shields has ever produced and setting it to a propulsive rhythm-guitar riff that shares most of its DNA with the Velvets’ “I Can’t Stand It.”
The result is a shameless rip-off, sure, but in a field of millions it’s one of the top three Velvets rip-offs of all time. (The other two? David Bowie’s “Queen Bitch” and the Wedding Present’s “Take Me!”) Why, I’ll bet poor old Laurie-addled Lou would cut off his own royalty checks—for a day or two, at least—to have written a Velvets song this throbbingly, incandescently, and beautifully unhinged.
Who knows, maybe there is something to be said for putting out an album containing something for everybody. But I hope that next time Gillespie & Co. can narrow their musical focus some. I’d be pretty happy if the lads were to tackle only four styles or so. Especially if, say, three of them were covers of “Sister Ray.” CP