The long-out-of-print, Lightning Seeds-produced third album from the British indie-poppers isn't exactly a trainwreck, but it's no "Crash", either.
In 1990, the Primitives' vibrant combination of power pop, '60s garage rock, and mild psychedelia was being outflanked. On the right was introspective, self-serious shoegaze, and on the left was hedonistic Madchester dance rock. In America, where they had enjoyed success on college radio and MTV, grunge was ascendant.
So, they did what most bands under the auspices of a major label would have done at the time. They tried to split the difference between the sound that had made them famous and the trends that could keep their career afloat. To accomplish this goal, they were paired with a "name" producer, who also "helped" with the songwriting. The result was Galore, the Primitives' third album, recorded in 1990 but shelved until the following year.
Not surprisingly, it received little support from the label, was a commercial failure, and precipitated the breakup of the band. But 1990s "alternative" music is enjoying something of a renaissance these days, with the Primitives themselves having reformed of late, and labels' coffers are running low. Thus comes Cherry Red's reissue of Galore on two discs, complete with B-sides, live tracks, and a few remixes for good measure.
The producer in question was Ian Broudie. The veteran of the Liverpool post-punk scene was at the time scoring sugar-coated pop hits under the name the Lightning Seeds. As he did with most everything he produced at the time, Broudie gives Galore a sticky-sweet coating whose defining characteristic is amiability. If nothing else, the original album still sounds bright and professional.
Lead single "You Are the Way", whose tune was written by Broudie, tells you most of what you need to know. A clean, immaculately-recorded guitar hook buzzes its way through floaty, lightheaded synths and a steady mid-tempo backbeat. When the Primitives' chanteuse Tracy Tracy starts signing, there's none of the sass she exuded on the band's previous hits. Instead, she swoons her way through the song.
There are a couple stabs at Madchester-style dance-rock. "Earth Thing" is a would-be rave-up replete with swirling Hammond organ and driving shuffle rhythm. At least the self-produced track keeps the guitars nice and loud, though it's doubtful it caused the likes of Happy Mondays or Blur to lose any sleep at the time. "See Thru the Dark" is basically the same song run through Broudie's indie-pop factory.
Galore's stabs at more ponderous, navel-gazing sounds are actually more convincing. "Slip Away" is the kind of blissfully melancholic twee pop the Cardigans would hit big with a few years later. The sing-song "Smile", sung by guitarist/songwriter Paul Court, could pass as a Grant McClennan-penned Go-Betweens B-side. It's "Emphatise", though, that hints at how the Primitives could have escaped musical purgatory with a little more dignity intact. Unrepentantly moody and gauzy, it basks in chiming, shimmering guitars to full shoegaze effect. Easily the best thing on the entire collection, it's also the one track to be helmed by Spiritualized and Suede collaborator Ed Buller. It's a shame this standout is also an anomaly. Did the label stick the Primitives with Broudie rather than Buller?
It's likely that not even a different producer could have completely saved Galore from Court's generally uninspired songwriting and missteps like "Hello Jesus", a savior-on-the-telephone song that came two years after Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus".
The generous collection of ephemera on this 30-track collection is nonetheless for die-hards only. Cocteau Twins fans might get a kick out the phased-out remix of "You Are the Way" by that band's Robin Guthrie. The live tracks are weighed down by further Hammond organ vamps. Still, the inclusion of titles from the Primitives' first two albums only makes Galore proper pale even more by comparison.
Galore is an easy listen precisely because there is so little of substance to get in the way. It's a perfect example of how quickly the major labels' desire to jump on the "alternative" craze of the early '90s led to diminishing returns and stifled creativity. In that sense, it's quintessential.