Album review of Beautiful Future by Primal Scream released through B-Unique.
Bobby Gillespie has always liked to be seen as something of a visionary in musical terms. From his earliest dalliances flitting between banging the skins for The Jesus And Mary Chain and setting up the first incarnation of Primal Scream, he's managed his utmost to stay one step in front of the rest. It hasn't always paid off; 'Sonic Flower Groove', the Scream's often forgotten first long player is widely regarded as being their worst, so obviously retro in all its paisley-coated glory it may be. And then of course come the accusations - or should that be questions - as to what Gillespie's actual role is, because for all the money in the world its not a harsh criticism but a factual observation to claim he isn't the most talented vocalist in the world. If he isn't a singer, strictly speaking a musician or involved on the production side in any way shape or form, just what does he actually do?
On the surface of it not a great deal it seems and yet, nearly a quarter of a century on from his first ever recordings with Primal Scream, he's still here fronting the 2008 model with some aplomb. In recent years, the Scream line-up has managed to attain a degree of stability, with long-time cohorts Martin Duffy and Andrew Innes still on board and the likes of Gary 'Mani' Mounfield and drummer Darrin Mooney both approaching the decade mark in terms of years in service.
That many bands would have - indeed, HAVE - called it a day years ago is perhaps testament to Gillespie and co.'s ever-passionate drive to create something vibrant and exciting, and in light of album number eight 'Riot City Blues' subsequent roasting from many sections of the music press for doing too steeped in the most obvious aspects of rock'n'roll's past history, they've gone for a more futuristic, computerised sound on its successor, 'Beautiful Future'. Recorded in equal parts at various locations with Bjorn Yttling and Paul Epworth, parts of this record are almost like a return to 2002's 'Evil Heat' and its menacingly electro feel, the only difference being that 'Beautiful Future' has a more pop-orientated vein running through it from start to finish.
As on their previous records, the name guests come and go thick and fast, with Josh Homme, CSS' Lovefoxxx, Fairport Convention's Linda Thompson, Victoria Bergman (formerly of The Concretes) and Lykke Li all popping up at various times. Indeed, Homme's contribution on the closing 'Necro Hex Blues' is a dirty great riff that doubles as a wall of sound punctuating the song's unfathomable lyric, that ultimately saves 'Beautiful Future' from descending into an electrofest altogether.
That's not to say that the electronica focus here is a bad thing; after 'Riot City Blues' clumsy lad rock it is a welcome departure, and both recent single 'Can't Go Back' and its successor 'The Glory Of Love' are among the most radiantly upbeat statements of intent to emerge from Gillespie's locker in many a moon. Elsewhere though, the reliance on a singular, looped effect - almost like a modern-day take on Suicide's debut of the same name in places - can become quite dirge-like and although repetition is the aim for such a sound, in this case it isn't really a good thing.
Overall, 'Beautiful Future' is the sound of a band that seems to be muddled in transition. Where they go from here is anyone's guess, but you can bet your bottom dollar on one thing; that Bobby Gillespie still isn't ready for retiring just yet. Patchy in places, average overall.