Primal Scream‘s waiflike but coolly charismatic captain Bobby Gillespie clearly knows how pop works. In the 30-plus years he’s been in the boogie game, he’s crafted some absolute bangers. “Country Girl”, “Movin’ on Up”, “Rocks”, “Loaded”. This was daring ‘Trojan Horse’ pop as amongst the rumpshakin’ dancers the Scream smuggled gun totin’ revolutionaries like “Miss Lucifer”, “Swastika Eyes” and “Kill All Hippies”. If that wasn’t enough remember those are Bobby’s drums on Jesus & Mary Chain’s “Just Like Honey” too. Stealing from the best and fusing it into something fresh all whilst conspiring with similarly minded rascals like George Clinton, Augustus Pablo, the Orb, Kate Moss, Irvine Welsh, Kevin Shields, Jimmy Miller and Robert Plant. Folks, Gillespie is a man who used to put a leather jacket on to watch Top of the Pops.
It’s admittedly been a while since Primal Scream were on the frontline of pop’s battlefield. Gillespie has, wisely, long since cut out the bad medicine that fueled the Mercury Prize winning Screamadelica, but let’s be honest, you’d be hard pressed to recall anything from 2008’s Beautiful Future or 2013’s More Light. The first taste of Chaosmosis though hinted Bobby’s mojo was risin’ again. Shacking up with today’s talented tearaway Sky Ferreira for “Where the Light Gets In” was a genius move. A Bonnie ‘n’ Clyde, glittery electro romp likely inspired from a lyric by Leonard Cohen with a melody that hijacks Pet Shop Boys’ euphoric “It’s Alright” it sounds fresh and futuristic. Vital even. Maybe it’s Gillespie vampirically feasting off Ferreira’s young blood but it’s the most incendiary the Scream have sounded since 2006’s barnstorming “Country Girl”. “I’m never gonna die again!” howls Bobby to the moon and back. Too bad we live in an age where Kim Kardashian’s buttocks have more chance of leaving a dent on the pop chart.
Whilst Chaosmosis does reveal itself to be Primal Scream’s most conventional yet personal record, it’s sadly not in the same league as their finest work. The biggest disappointment is how flat the two Haim collaborations feel. “Trippin’ on Your Love” shoots for a “Movin’ On Up”-style ‘spiritual soul shaker’ but falls nearer to humdrum ’90s chancers like the Farm or the Soup Dragons. Not good. The foot-stomping melodrama of “100% or Nothing” fares little better. It pouts and frowns, does some ‘Shouty Pointy’ and begs “What did you expect?” in a voice uncannily like Bernard Sumner’s, but it’s painfully dour. You can’t blame Haim though for Chaosmosis‘ worst offender “When the Blackout Meets the Fallout”. A hysterically dated industrial dirge that sounds like a White Zombie bonus track. A contorted Bobby snarls about “Erotic despair” and a “Libido on ice” (Ouch!) as we politely stare out of the window until it goes away.
Bobby Gillespie is far too clever and imbued in the ways of the force to totally blow it and despite these few clangers there’s still plenty to ravish you on Chaosmosis. “(Feeling Like A) Demon Again” is the other Grade A Pop nugget alongside “Where the Light Gets In”. A seductive, sensual and smoky neon-lit Italo prowl through the city after dark. Like much of Chaosmosis, it’s a redemption song with Bobby feverishly clawing towards the light, “Spent my fire I paid the cost”. Groovy. The Serge Gainsbourg breezy “I Can Change” meanwhile shimmies with a Bossa Nova beat and hypnotic flutes around an apologetic Gitanes’ whisper, “All the time that we lost / Drink and drugs.” Bobby gets even more confessional though on the intimate “Private Wars” which features the haunting touch of Cat’s Eyes’ Rachel Zeffira. Forlorn, folky, fragile and quietly affecting. “Time to let it go… ease your heart of rage” it caresses gently as angelic hands guide its bruised narrator out of the grave.
After “Where the Light Gets In” revitalises the spirit of Chaosmosis “Golden Rope” marches like a rising army with blood on its teeth. Gillespie spits his commandments with calm menace, “Won’t you get up off your knees?” At times he sounds almost like a pissed-off Jarvis Cocker throwing down hexes, “It rules and it divides us / Leaves a violence deep inside us.” It simmers to a head spinning mantra, “I know that there is something wrong with me”, as Bobby hammers his skull against the madhouse wall. It’s a much needed display of power.
“Carnival of Fools” throws a real curveball though seemingly splicing the pogo riff from Crystal Castles’ “Baptism” with, bizarrely, Aloe Blacc’s plink-plonkin’ “I Need a Dollar”. It’s hard to fathom whether it’s a triumph or travesty as to quote Spinal Tap, “There’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.” Chaosmosis departs though with a lighters-in-the-air lament. “Autumn in Paradise” has Gillespie tramping the mean streets and pointing out the “Lonesome drifter”, “Empty factories” and “Broken families”. Musically we’ve cruising the crossroads between New Order’s “Leave Me Alone” and U2’s recent “Song for Someone”. “A soul lacks all direction / When there’s nothing to believe”, it nods sagely. It may carry the faintest aroma of fromage but there’s glossy synths, a talky rap bit and the whole thing’s so sincerely heartfelt you’ll want to usher it in for warm tea and sandwiches.
Ultimately Chaosmosis is unlikely to become anybody’s favourite Primal Scream album. Their inherent knack for pop genius remains alive and kicking — “Light” and “Demon” are haymakin’ knockouts — but like its whippet-thin frontman it would’ve benefited from having a little more meat on its modest bones. Probably more “Chaos” too. They’re still on the side of the angels and fighting the good fight but for a band that once excelled at being extraordinary, Chaosmosis is, occasionally, too ordinary.