Riot City Blues
rimal Scream are a fucking train wreck. Care to disagree? Don’t be an idiot. Just listen to their back catalogue! At the start of the 90s they made an awesome, genre-splicing, zeitgeist-seizing, pill-popping behemoth of a record, and spent the rest of the decade trying to follow it up by making shit records. At the start of the 00s they made an awesome, genre-splicing, zeitgeist-predicating, drug-guzzling behemoth of a record, and spent the rest of the decade trying to follow it up by making shit records. Each of those two “awesome” records were actually made by OTHER PEOPLE anyway! Screamadelica is a great Sabres of Paradise record with a dodgy ballad in the middle and a soul rip-off at the start! XTRMNTR is the best DFA/Kevin Shields/Jagz Kooner/Bernard Sumner mash-up EVER!
That’s not fair though. Obviously, I’m being a little over the top, but this is Primal Scream we’re talking about—they demand over the top. Some of the records in between have been good, haven’t they?
The Brendan Lynch-indebted dubscapes of Vanishing Point are still great, particularly “Kowalski” and “Stuka,” but you have to remember that it’s an “alternative soundtrack” to the film of the same name, which is an embarrassingly fanboy thing to do. Evil Heat, reasonably exciting in 2002 because it was a swift and aesthetically consistent follow-up to XTRMNTR, now seems almost like a record made on autopilot. The mid-90s Stones rips I can do without. The late 80s Stones rips I can REALLY do without. That Byrds thing from 20 years ago? Please. “Velocity Girl” is OK in an amusing 90-second vignette way, but that’s all. “Imperial”? Uergh.
Recorded with Youth in about a week (presumably in between exciting drug orgies with supermodels and poet laureates), Riot City Blues is a “return to the sound of Give Out But Don’t Give Up.” I bet you’re salivating, eh? It’s just what you wanted from Primal Scream in 2006. Mind you, if Kasabian had jacked my sound so badly, I’d be running from it as fast as possible too.
So what we have here is Primal Scream as all-night-rock’n’roll-party revivalists, which is pretty much what they’ve always been, only now the rhythm of their wild oscillations between the future and the past (dramatic and inaccurate, I know, but this is Primal Scream) have swung them back to face the past.
Throb has left (although I gather he did play on Riot City Blues, he just can’t be arsed to be involved with touring it—which is understandable. He’s 45 years old and named Throbert, for God’s sake, and the prospect of having to play this hokey, clichéd, shamelessly preening record-collection-rock live in Japan or Belgium is obviously far too much for him), as has Kevin Shields, who may or may not be finally making a follow-up to Loveless. Maybe this time he’ll remember what bottom-end is, eh?
Riot City Blues has a cringeworthy title, a horrible cover, and a good font. It starts with “Country Girl,” which is pleasantly bizarre; unexpected, at least. Country guitar to dance to that isn’t The Mavericks, and a stupid mandolin to boot. It stomps energetically, but other than that, it’s the kind of over-compressed, attention-deficit-disorder, stick-the-first-single-first folly that so irritates me about “ambitious” indie / alternative / rock bands these days. No one will want to listen to it in 10 years’ time.
The problem is that the rest of the album is pretty much the same. There’s a song called “We’re Gonna Boogie,” for heaven’s sake, and another called “Suicide Sally & Johnny Guitar,” allegedly about, gasp, Kate Moss and Pete Doherty. It’s beyond embarrassing. Listening to the Scream for lyrical insight is like listening to Dylan for beats though, it’s just that on Riot City Blues there’s precious little of the random, borderline psychotic eclecticism-cum-theft-cum-letting-other-people-make-their-records-for-them genius that has made Primal Scream worth paying attention to over the last 20 years. It’s not like they write good “tunes,” is it?
“Little Death” is probably the closest thing here to the sound of futurist Primals; not too far removed from “Keep Your Dreams” or “Out of the Void,” but it’s on its own. We’re six years down the road from “Shoot Speed/Kill Light,” nine from “MBV Arkestra,” more than a dozen from “Rocks,” and fifteen from “Don’t Fight It, Feel It”; we might have come to expect a little more. You could turn it up loud, snort something, imbibe something else, dance around like an idiot and enjoy Riot City Blues, but why would you want to? Especially when the sadly import-only PRML SCRM Live in Japan CD from 2003 does it all so, so much better.
I love Primal Scream, but they’re rubbish. Embarrassingly so. They make two kinds of albums. File Riot City Blues under “Shite.”