When Bobby Gillespie yelps, “I got the riot city blues” on “Country Girl,” the punchy opener and lead single from his band’s eighth proper full-length, I can’t help but cringe, even though this track has me tapping my foot to its “Maggie May”-styled hip shaking. I think I’m gonna get the blues too, come to think of it; this does not bode well for the rest of Riot City Blues. As I scan the rest of the song titles, it becomes clear that I can expect a lot of forced rock ‘n’ roll clichés to tumble out of the speakers.
Sure, there are a few stompers here. “The 99th Floor” is a quick grope on the peanut-shell-strewn barroom floor in front of the jukebox with the local girl who’s easy, but the songs just smack of misguided Southern-rock conventions. But then there’s “Little Death,” which is a throwback to the band’s brooding era (1997’s Vanishing Point) and sits like an upset stomach among the tracks that are just trying to have a bit of fun. And the pure lyrical idiocy of “Suicide Sally and Johnny Guitar” and “We’re Gonna Boogie” is evidence that everything is not okay. (Boogie?! And to think I thought that term had dropped out of popular vernacular.)
The genius of the Primals was that they used to take some “risks” and try to weld the not-often-interchangeable parts of rock, pop and dance into something visceral with the help of talented friends (particularly deejay/producer Andrew Weatherall and My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields). Screamadelica (1991) was a genius collaboration with Weatherall that booted the songs from their rock ‘n’ ballad efforts into a whole new genre— reworking of earlier songs into danceindie anthems both anticipated and incinerated that whole Summer of Love ecstasy fuelled sound.
Vanishing Point (1997), XTRMNTR (2000), and Evil Heat (2002) had the knife-edge hot spikes of electronic effects, searing guitars, thick bass lines, and Gillespie’s yowl that let eclipsed the low points of the band’s “Rocks” (from 1994’s Give Out But Don’t Give Up) and Dixie-Narco (1992) faux Southern trash leanings. But on Riot City Blues, the band is re-excavating that ground. For the first time in a long string of albums, the Primals aren’t toeing the cliff of pop music and clinging to the fine ropes of established dance, pop, and rock conventions while making an infectious groove. Instead, the songs are imitative and lackluster — bizarrely influenced by bands that came in the Scream’s wake: the Datsuns, the White Stripes, and all the other bands kicking around MC5, Faces, and Exile on Main Street Stones. Primal Scream already did this — years and years ago.
Band (streaming audio/video): http://www.primalscream.net/