Sound: Scotland's Primal Scream has taken a gamble on the blues. This is not necessarily such a dangerous task for your average rock and roll band, but for one that is known for it's trademark psychedelic sound, it is downright gutsy. The band's new album Riot City Blues is not unsuccessful and does contain quite a few catchy tunes, but it also might leave listeners with that much of a lasting impression.
Vocalist Bobby Gillespie, guitarist Andrew Innes, pianist/organist Martin Duffy, guitarist Robert Young, bassist Gary Mounfield, and drummer Darren Mooney have been making unique, psychedelia-based records since the 1980s, so it is completely understandable that the band might feel like trying a little something new. The decision to go more the way of The Rolling Stones' bluesy material is somewhat odd, but because Primal Scream is a group of truly accomplished musicians, it works on the whole.
On the 10-track album, the songs that go to more of an extreme are the ones that make you want another a listen. At one end of the musical palette is We're Gonna Boogie, which feels like it could come straight from a Delta bluesman. The tune's harmonica, stripped-down guitars, and minimal drums mark a very distinct change in the band's sound, which would usually incorporate a series of hypnotic effects. If it does anything, We're Gonna Boogie proves the band never did need to rely on any extra equipment.
On the other end of the spectrum is the song Little Death, which starts off with a trance-like organ intro that could pass for a more contemporary version of The Doors' The End. The eerie track is completely unexpected on a CD full of straightforward rock that could be heard at your local bar, so it's a satisfying addition.
The majority of the CD does concentrate on your basic blues-based rock, which for dedicated Primal Scream fans may be off-putting. The band does a capable job at the endeavor, but those who do prefer the more psychedelic side of the band might be left utterly confused. Primal Scream's blend of the blues is not bad by any means, but it might now always keep your attention like the band's early work. // 8
Lyrics: On Riot City Blues, the band does a fine job of keeping with the down-and-out title, while also incorporating a bit of humor as well. The witty lines are a-plenty on the CD, and that aspect actually mirrors a lot of the lyrics written by true bluesman; in other words the standard theme of, Damn, I feel bad, but I'm going to make you smile when I tell you why. Sure, the band is following a blues formula done for ages, but the result is still entertaining.
On 99th Floor, Gillespie tells a story of heartache in a darkly comic manner. Gillespie sings, I went to see the doctor; Shot me full of junk; I'm on the edge of the 99th floor; Everybody say 'jump!' If you're going to write a blues song, well, you'd better have a pretty fantastic story to tell. In 99th Floor, that mission is accomplished.
Country Girl follows the same blues formula, with a series of lyrics that talk about all of life's misfortunes and how a country gal just might be the only remedy. Gillespie explains, Lost your wife Lost your son; Stay out drinkin' 'till the morning comes. He finishes the thought with, You better go back to you mama; She'll take care of you. Sure, a true bluesman might be more effective in believability, but the band does a fine job of actually keeping with the title of the album. // 8
Overall Impression: Primal Scream has dared to go where psychedelic bands don't usually go, but it actually pulls through the process nicely. Riot City Blues succeed in the blues format for the most part, enhancing songs with elements like harmonica and piano. The best track is actually the most authentic-sounding stab at the blues, and it actually makes you wish that Primal Scream might do an entire CD in the style of the acoustic-based Delta blues.
Regardless of the band's past musical style, Primal Scream proves that it can take on a lot more than people might have expected. Guest appearances by The Kills' Alison Mosshart, Echo and the Bunnymen's Will Sergeant, and Warren Ellis from Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds give Riot City Blues makes for interesting additions to the record, but it is the band itself that actually gives the record it's integrity. While the record might not be the best Primal Scream has offered, the gamble did pay off in the end. // 8