Sometimes it’s frustrating to be a fan of Primal Scream, mainly because there’s no telling what version of the band is going to show up on a given album. When the Scottish band sticks to electronica (1991’s drug-fueled opus Screamadelica, 1997’s despondent masterpiece Vanishing Point), nihilistic synth-punk (2000’s XTRMNTR) or fractured dance (2002’s Evil Heat), chances are good for a solid record. However, if Bobby Gilliespie and company get on a blues-influenced rock ’n’ roll trip—1994’s Give Out But Don’t Give Up, 2006’s Riot City Blues—the results are far more uneven.
Thankfully, Primal Scream’s 10th studio album, More Light, eschews any sort of stale retrofitted swagger. Appropriately seedy production from David Holmes (who also worked on XTRMNTR) creates a more sophisticated mix touching on clashing electronic discord (“Culturecide,” featuring the Pop Group’s Mark Stewart with unhinged vocal cameos), psychedelic bliss-outs (“River Of Pain,” the Velvet Underground-esque drone “Walking With The Beast”), slinky cabaret (“Goodbye Johnny”), and even riotous disco-punk (the horn-peppered “Invisible City”). Even the seductive “Elimination Blues”—a ghost-funk snake charmer featuring wailing electric guitar and Robert Plant on vocals—feels modern.
Primal Scream is certainly still mining influences from the past, however. (Even its own past: Spooky synthesizers and space-junk effects conjure Vanishing Point’s ominous atmospheres, while the loping, Rolling Stones dead ringer “It’s Alright, It’s OK” sounds like a Screamadelica outtake.) Grimy punk saxophone reminiscent of early Psychedelic Furs dots the nine-minute opening salvo “2013” and the messy, garage-punk Stooges clone “Hit Void,” while strident post-punk rumbles—prickly riffs and an EKG-monitor bass line on “Turn Each Other Inside Out”—are also prominent.
If More Light has a weakness, it’s the lyrics. As always, most of Primal Scream’s phrasing works best as added musical color; taken separately, the stream-of-conscious poetry focused on crumbling families and hard-luck characters is tepid at best. The exception is forceful songs such as “2013,” “Culturecide,” and “Hit Void,” which address deteriorating societal freedoms and call for revolution with life-and-death urgency. That these tunes are so galvanizing isn’t surprising: A simmering desire to rip it up and start again is part of Primal Scream’s DNA. But on More Light, the band exercises this need for reinvention while incorporating—and even emphasizing—the danger and despair inherent in its best work.