PRIMAL SCREAM-RIOT CITY BLUES.
PRIMAL SCREAM-RIOT CITY BLUES.
As someone who has spent many years reading the music press, one thing that always make me smile is how quickly an artist or group fall from grace in the eyes of the music press. One minute a group are being lauded as the savior of music, having released one of the previous decade’s most influential albums, then when they decide to change their style, they’re pilloried by the same journalists who previously, hung on their every word. It seems that unless a group releases albums the music press want to hear, regardless of how good or commercial it is, doesn’t count. Back in 2006, Primal Scream released Riot City Blues, a perfectly good album, which saw them return to a style of music they like, play well, previously have released and has proved popular with fans. That wasn’t good enough for the music press. Although reviews were mixed, some were scathing. This return to a more traditional rock ‘n’ roll album, didn’t please the journalists who fourteen years earlier, had loved and lauded the seminal Screamadelica. However, fans liked the album, and it sold well. In this article, I’ll revisit Riot City Blues and evaluate just how good an album it really was. I’ll find out who was right, the critics or the music buying public.
Riot City Blues was released in June 2006. It was the eighth album by Primal Scream and their fifth album since 1991’s Screamadelica. Since the release of Screamadelica, the band hadn’t stood still. It would’ve been easy for them to follow-up Screamadelica with a similar album. They could’ve easily exploited the new fashion for rock and dance crossover albums, but choose not to do so. Probably they knew that Screamaelica was a one-off. It was the type of album that comes along once in every generation. Screamadelica was the acid house generation’s Sgt. Pepper. After Screamadelica, Primal Scream returned to their love of rock ‘n’ roll with Give Out But Don’t Give Up, which I’ve previously written about. After that, the band released much more experimental albums with Vanishing Point in 1997, XTRMNTR in 2000 and Evil Heat in 2002. A dub album Echo Dek which I’ve previously written about, was released in October 1997. Echo Dek was an album of dub remixes of tracks on Vanishing Point by Adrian Sherwood. Unlike other groups, Primal Scream refused to continue churning out album after album of similar music. No, they’re innovators, and Riot City Blues was the first time in twelve years that they’d revisited this style of music. So how good an album is Riot City Blues? I’ll now tell you.
Riot City Blues opens with Country Girl, a track that begins with a wall of guitars playing. It’s a big sound, big, glorious and impressive. When Bobby Gillespie sings his voice is loud and strong, he’s really forcing the vocal, as he sings over the top of the arrangement. Later, when the rest of the band join in, Mani’s bass and Darren Mooney’s drums help to create what is a joyous slice of good time rock ‘n’ roll. Andrew Innes then plays mandolin, which is a total contrast to the rest of the arrangement. Overall what a way to start any album, let alone Riot City Blues. If the Rolling Stone had produced this track, music critics would be drooling over. They didn’t the Scream did, and it’s brilliant.
Nitty Gritty picks up where Country Girl left off, with more of that good time rock ‘n’ roll. Like it’s predecessor, the sound is big and bold. Starting with guitars and piano that would pay homage to the Rolling Stones at their peak. Bobby’s voice sounds more mid-Atlantic than Glaswegian, as he launches into the lyrics. This is how rock ‘n’ roll should sound, how it used to sound. Primal Scream have taken screaming screeching guitars played brilliantly, some old time piano playing, pounding drums added Bobby’s attitude laden vocals and thrown in a few handclaps for good measure. The result four and a half masterful minutes of strutting, arrogant good time rock ‘n’ roll. Magnificent.
Think The Stooges, New York Dolls and Iggy and The Stooges. Take Primal Scream, throw in all these influences, maybe some 1960’s garage bands and what you get is Suicide Sally and Johnny Guitar. For three minutes Bobby and company pay a raucous tribute to all these influences. As the track starts, you’re lulled into a false sense of security. All you can hear is Bobby singing quietly accompanied by an acoustic guitar. Then, the track literally explodes. What emerges is a melange of rocking rhythm guitars, a lead guitar that screams, then plays some sublime solos. The rhythm section get in on the act too. How the drums survive Darren’s punishment defies belief. Hidden in the depths is a keyboard that fills out the sound. Not forgetting Bobby, his vocal is passionate, angry and full of attitude. If this was a tribute to some of rock ‘n’ roll’s greats, it’s fitting one, from the last great rock ‘n’ roll band.
Many people compared this album to Give Out But Don’t Give Up. Personally, I think they’re two very different albums. This is apparent when you hear When the Bomb Drops. The tracks on Give Out But Don’t Give Up were more melodic and soulful, whereas tracks like When the Bomb Drops, portray Primal Scream almost as the angry young men of rock ‘n‘ roll. It begins with guitars growling and chiming, drums then accompany them. Bobby joins the frae, his vocal loaded in cynicism and anger, as he sings the lyrics. Guitars seem to be the weapon of choice on this track, and it’s solos aplenty with Andrew Innes and Robert Mountfield competing for the title guitar hero. Like other tracks on the album, the arrangement is full, the sound loud. Having said that, you can’t fail to be impressed by Primal Scream playing as if there lives depended on it. Quite simply they rock.
From the distance, slowly emerges a music. Guitars and a hurdy gurdy play. It’s almost discordant sounding at the start, then gradually, Little Death emerges from its slumbers. When it does, the sound is much more pleasing, much more melodic. When Bobby sings, he almost whispers the vocal, and is joined by backing vocalists who surround his voice, and are the perfect accompaniment. It’s a track that gently meanders, and it’s in no rush to reveal itself. Otherworldly noises emerge from your speakers, they tantalize you, dare you to name them. Sometimes you can, sometimes you struggle, other times you just can’t. Later guitars join, they wail, percussion plays and drums join in. It ends up an epic track, the longest on the album, one that’s fascinating and enthralls you, one where every time you hear it, more of its subtleties and nuances reveal themselves.
The 99th Floor is the complete opposite of Little Death. Instead, we’re back to the rockier side of Primal Scream. Here, the pace is frantic from the start. When the track starts, the tempo is fast, the sound loud. It’s a glorious mixture of guitars, harmonica, drums and Bobby’s angry vocal. This is no mealy mouthed and pithy nu folk album, no way, this is real rock ‘n’ roll, and Little Death is some of the best you’ll hear. It’s a musical explosion, one that demonstrates what rock music should sound like. From the intro to the end, the Scream are in full flow, and Little Death is one of the album’s highlights.
A harmonica plays at the beginning of We’re Gonna Boogie. The sound is bluesy, yet rocky. Martin Duffy’s playing is brilliant. Bobby accompanies the harmonica and behind them the rest of the arrangement is much quieter, almost understated compared to previous tracks. Mostly it’s just Bobby and the harmonica, but occasionally percussion plays quietly. Although very different, it’s still another very good track, which benefits from a much subtler arrangement.
Earlier I mentioned the group’s love of the New York Dolls. Well, here maybe they pay homage by naming a track after them, Dolls (Sweet Rock and Roll). When the track opens there’s more than a hint of Marc Bolan and T Rex in the track, particularly when the rest of the group sing backing vocals, both at the start and during the track. That’s where the similarities end. Bobby isn’t the second Marc Bolan, no he’s the first Bobby Gillespie, and as usual, his vocal suits the song perfectly. He doesn’t force the vocal, just gives his usual passionate and energetic performance. Behind him, the rest of the band revisit their own unique brand of good time rock ‘n’ roll. Overall, this combination provides a welcome trip down memory lane for those of a certain age, when all music sounded just as good.
Hell’s (Coming Down) has a very different start to other tracks on Riot City Blues. It begins with a mandolin and fiddles playing, and sounds as if it’s straight out of Nashville. There’s an authentic country side, which is combined with a slice of rock ‘n’ roll. Behind the fiddles and mandolin, guitars and drums combine, as the track sweeps beautifully along. As tracks goes, this one’s infectious and unlike anything Primal Scream have ever done before. Excellent.
Riot City Blues closes with Sometimes I Feel So Lonely, a track that could be related to Damaged from Screamadelica. It’s a beautiful, sad track, one with a lovely laid back feel. Bobby takes the tempo down, and sings the sad lyrics tenderly. He’s accompanied by backing vocalists whose backing vocals are just as tender. Behind Bobby, the rest of the band join in with the subdued and understated arrangement. Drums are played gently, a harmonica blows and French horn can be heard. Quite simply, both the lyrics and arrangement are a perfect match for each other. Each are beautifully understated, and the end result is a heart achingly beautiful song to close the album.
Since the release of Riot City Blues in 2006, I’ve always loved the album. I love the variety of songs on the album, and the passion and energy the group display. This was their eighth album, and Primal Scream still had something to new offer. They were seeking new ways to reinvent themselves, for example the experimental Little Death and the country tinged Hell’s (Coming Down). Unlike certain music critics, I thoroughly enjoy Primal Scream good time rock ‘n’ roll sound. When they play like this, they remind many people of the Rolling Stones at their prime. I feel that some people didn’t give the album a chance, and for whatever reason, chose to ignore the fact that there are ten great tracks on the album. Maybe, one of the reasons is that, after Screamadelica, when they released Give Out But Don’t Give Up they reverted to their more traditional roots. Some people viewed them as “dance traitors.” If so, fifteen years was a long time to hold a grudge. Personally, I like to give an album a chance, and if you’ve never heard it, it’s a great album, one that I’d recommend to anyone. Ten greats tracks played by one of the last great rock ‘n’ roll bands. Standout Tracks: Country Girl, When the Bomb Drops, The 99th Floor and Sometimes I Feel So Lonely.
PRIMAL SCREAM-RIOT CITY BLUES.