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Riot City Blues

Primal Scream

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Album Review

If at first you don't succeed, try again. Riot City Blues is another attempt at straight-up trad rock where the ghosts of the Faces, the Rolling Stones, and others come traipsing into Bobby Gillespie's scope and he goes for it. Some heard an overly strenuous attempt at this on 1994's Give Out But Don't Give Up, where it worked not at all due to the band's attempt at literally mimicking the sounds of the aforementioned bands without adding anything else to the mix. Riot City Blues is a much more relaxed effort, and benefits significantly from that stance. Yeah, it's true that on first listen "Country Girl," the album's opener, sounds like an in-the-studio gathering of the Stones and the Faces riotously attempting a country gospel song — but on deeper observation, it feels more like Delaney & Bonnie & Friends on Motel Shot. The straight-up raw boogie rock of "Nitty Gritty" takes the Delaney & Bonnie move even deeper and brings elements of R&B into the equation. This is late-night drunken rockism. It's not carefully crafted; it's throwing something at the wall because it's there to throw. Riot City Blues is not an "album as event" as many past Primal Scream records were; this is an "album for its own sake" recording. It's an offering where it really seems that Gillespie doesn't care if he loses his hipster following — all that matters is that Riot City Blues rocks.

One can hear traces of not only the Faces but everything from early Alice Cooper (à la Killer) to Mott the Hoople, David Bowie, the Kinks, the New York Dolls, and a whole lot of other rock & roll bands. Looser than the Black Crowes, thinner than even the Black Keys; it's simply shambolic from top to bottom. This is trashy, nasty rock music that doesn't feel modern but it does feel timeless. The songs are riff-centric, some of them joyous, others darkly freaky — "When the Bomb Drops" is a fine example, and the complete dope and guitar orgy of "Suicide Sally & Johnny Guitar" is in the red zone in the same way "Suffragette City" is. (One can feel the gigantic pub-crawling smile of Mick Ronson from some strange Valhalla.) Most of the tracks here were produced by ex-Killing Joke bassist/Orb collaborator Youth, with a pair recorded and produced by the rather less intense Andrew Innes. Whether "We're Gonna Boogie," with its bluesy harmonica and slide guitar — with Bobby Gillespie sounding like Donovan singing the Stones' "Country Honk" — is taking the piss or not is debatable, but it's a gas to listen to, as is the down-home "Hell's Comin' Down," with its fiddle (courtesy of the Dirty Three and Bad Seeds' Warren Ellis), high-strung guitars, 12-strings, and mandolins. The 12-bar blues formula used on the latter cut is particularly refreshing. "Dolls" is such a raucous joy that it's infectious. It's a given that Riot City Blues, issued in 2006, is easily the most unhip record Primal Scream have ever issued. The songs are little more than dressing for the riffs, but they have lots of humor and cleverness and they lack the snide hipsterism of the times. It doesn't matter. Listened to with an open mind, it's a refreshingly retro rock & roll album that uses its waste-oid imagination in capturing every fantasy that entered Bobby Gillespie's teenage mind. Get it.

Biography

Formed: 1984 in Glasgow, Scotland

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s

Primal Scream's career could in many ways be read as a microcosm of British indie rock in the '80s and '90s. Bobby Gillespie formed the band in the mid-'80s while drumming for goth-tinged noise rockers the Jesus and Mary Chain, who were the exact opposite of Primal Scream — the latter specialized in infectious, jangly pop on its early records. After a brief detour to punky hard rock, the group reinvented itself as a dance band in the early '90s, following through on the pop and acid house fusions...
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