With new albums from the likes of David Bowie, Daft Punk, Kanye West and Nine Inch Nails, 2013 might be called the year of the musical comeback. For whatever reason — luck? happenstance? a carefully-constructed plot of a previously-unknown cabal of musicians who schedule new releases? — several well-loved bands have released, or will be releasing, new material for the first time in years (and, in some cases, decades), making fans more excited about music than they have been in a long time.
In the midst of this, it’d be understandable if More Light, the new album by Primal Scream, gets overlooked. After all, it’s only been five years since the band’s last outing, and more than twice that since the band — who have never really enjoyed the International Elder Statesmen of Rock status in the same manner as NIN or Bowie — surfed the zeitgeist in the way that Kanye does. Despite this, More Light just may be one of the most essential albums of the summer.
That shouldn’t be the case; depending on your age/tastes, Primal Scream either peaked with 2000’s XTMNTR or 1991’s Screamadelica, albums that both manage to feel particularly of their time and timelines simultaneously — the latter album, in particular, has become a touchstone album for countless indie kid. With recent albums Beautiful Future and Riot City Blues sounding like uneven attempts to recapture past glories, you would’ve been forgiven for writing the band off, three decades into their existence.
More Light, then, is an unexpected pleasure. It’s also a love letter to pop-music history that the band loves, as might be obvious from “2013,” the album’s lead single that ironically worries about “the total subjugation/of the rock and roll nation.” The album doesn’t sound like anything else around in today’s music scene, but it does sound like a lot of things we’ve heard before, shamelessly and gloriously, and that’s a lot of the album’s charm: That it sounds like a lot of different things that you’ve liked before throughout its run time.
Take lead single, “It’s Alright, It’s OK.” The song sounds like nothing as much as “Movin’ On Up,” the band’s Screamdelica Rolling Stones pastiche, and between the cosiness of the sound of the song — all jangly guitars, Hammond organ chirps and “Ooh La La” backing vocals — and comforting lyrics (“You can fix it/once it’s been broken/take your time/walk away/you can come back/if you’re supposed to”), it’s hard to imagine a song more agreeable and radio-friendly. Elsewhere on on the same album, however, you also get something far more oblique like “River of Pain.”
If the whispered vocals about domestic collapse and oddly hypnotic riff of the majority of the song — or the somewhat creepy chorus (“Boy, you feel the shame/boy, you feel the pain/when there’s nothing you can do/you carry it with you”) — aren’t enough to differentiate this track from “It’s Alright,” just scroll through to 3:01 on the above video and enjoy an instrumental break that seems to lift from Sun-Ra and Alexander Courage in equal amounts before returning to the main song again, as if the song took a wrong turn into a spectacularly epic alleyway for a second on its way to its finale. If you’re wondering what else More Light‘s reborn Scream has to offer, why not try out “2013” (with its 1980s Bowie sax) or “Culturecide” for even more cases of musical appropriation available on the album.
If those four tracks make you think that More Light is essentially a mix tape of cover versions of songs that never existed, brought to you by people with an incredibly good record collection, well… that’s not exactly the wrong reaction. What makes More Light such an appealing album isn’t that it’s staggeringly original or offers something brand new, but just the opposite: It sounds like the greatest hits package of the best garage band you’d somehow never heard of until now.
More Light, then, is the music-nerd equivalent of one of those books that you pick up in airports that have the author’s name in GIANT LETTERS on the cover and hold the promise of being utterly engrossing and completely disposable at the same time. For those who are familiar enough with the source material to appreciate half of the references contained in the various songs on the album, there’s little on there that will surprise, but there’s no denying the album is a surprisingly fun, affectionate attempt to recreate rock and roll history. More More, please.