In an old black and white photograph, Bobby Gillespie is clutching an aerosol spray, grinning at the product of his handiwork now emblazoned on the jet plane behind him, which reads: “Primal Scream …. Know What I Mean”. No question mark, it’s something more like an invitation, meant for those who want to believe, written in the different colours of rock’n’roll, dub, electronica, the purest pop and more.
Spin that kaleidoscope, and the new Scream record Chaosmosis is everything anyone might wish for and then more. It’s quite possibly the freest-sounding album the band have ever made (and this 11th studio effort in the better part of three decades) – 10 songs by turns angry and euphoric, personal and political, sounding like the distillation of so much that has come before plus a shot into the future. Opener Trippin’ On Your Love arrives with a drum loop and Duffy’s keyboards, then blasts into untrammeled ecstasy, picking up from It’s Alright, It’s Ok, the last track on 2013’s More Light. Backing vocals come from Danielle, Este and Alana of Haim, friends with the Scream since playing with them at Glastonbury two summers ago. “It’s pure love,” says Gillespie of the song.
Recorded in London, New York and Stockholm and written and produced by Gillespie and Andrew Innes, the album soon shades into darker territory, but the process of making it was quicker and easier than it’s ever been for the Scream.
“I think we’re getting better at writing songs and more confident and less self-conscious,” says Gillespie. “We’re better at letting things flow. Whereas 20 years ago,” – around the time of that old b&w photo – “it was fucking painful trying to make a Primal Scream record, it was like hell. I’m clearer-headed now, I’m better expressing my feelings and what I want to say. I’m trying to make sense of my life, of the the world, and I’m trying to put it into a pop song.”
Sharing the songwriting credits on three tracks (and production duties on those and a further two songs) is Björn Yttling, sometime bassist in Peter Bjorn and John, while other guests include Rachel Zeffira from Cat’s Eyes and the 23-year old Sky Ferreira. The latter became friends with the band in LA after she first asked them to work on a record of hers, and duets with Gillespie on Where the Light Gets In, the exhilarating first single from the album. It features a chorus that another friend of the group, Noel Gallagher, told them late one recent night is the best they’ve written in years.
Of the same ilk, and featuring Haim again, is 100% or Nothing, a barnstorming raver, except with a lyric that screams devastation and dislocation, a song described by Andrew Innes as “kind of an electronic Northern soul record”. “That combination of sadness and joy, that’s what I love in music,” adds Gillespie. “With that, you can seduce people.”
Like so often with the band, the conversation diverts into a discussion of the favourite sounds, whether the glam rock and punk on which they were weaned or Skip Spence and African Dub Chapter 3. Those literate in the secret language that the Scream speak might also make out traces of other seminal outfits on Chaosmosis, whether the Stooges (on Golden Rope) or the early Cure ((Feeling Like A) Demon Again) or the quirky electronica of something you might find on Cologne label Kompakt (Carnival of Fools). But as the band say, “we could try and be cool … but at the same time, we always loved the Stylistics or Tina Charles.” I love to love, indeed. “The history of pop music is in our DNA.”
Try and pinpoint them further, and the nearest for this record you’ll come is Siouxsie and the Banshees. “We loved those records when we were teenagers, songs like Happy House or Spellbound, because they were great pop songs, but there was something dark and twisted about them as well. I think this record has a similar attitude.” But nothing neatly sums up the scope of this album and the range of songs here – from the fragile Private Wars to the elegiac Autumn in Paradise. It’s been a long time since the rules and structures that bind other bands applied to Primal Scream.
The album cover art is the work of another friend, the Turner Prize shortlisted Jim Lambie, and as Gillespie says, “we work more like artists than a rock band; jamming with a whole band to write songs is not our way. We’ll have tracks full of riffs and ideas, which Andrew and I will work up together, putting one thing with another to create a song. We work very instinctively – we go with what feels right.”
Or as the Scream once also said before: don’t fight it, feel it.
Chaosmosis is a record written in the shadow of hard times. “The current political climate is deeply upsetting and we’re aware of it and opposed to it and we’d like to see something different,” says Gillespie. But it’s not a polemical album. “It can sound an angry record, but it’s also quite a personal record. I want to write about real situations, things I feel strongly about. But I also think the music’s becoming clearer … the lyrics are clearer.”
Chaosmosis: the light shines on.
“Art, politics, music … the people I love are the people who care about something, who care about beauty,” says Gillespie. “That’s what we’re trying to do here. And this album is beautiful.”