Consistency and predictability have never been Primal Scream's hallmarks. Through their decade-and-a-half career, they've embraced flower power, acid house, retro rock, dub reggae and post-industrial rock sometimes all on the same album. On their latest, Evil Heat, Primal Scream have streamlined their sound, strongly favoring sampled and synthetic sounds at the expense of things like guitars and drums. This approach could have worked as it did on 1991's Screamadelica but without good tunes to back it up, there's not too much to recommend here.
The fact that this isn't yesterday's Primal Scream comes through loud and clear on the opening track, "Deep Hit of the Morning Sun." Sequenced blips and mournful, machine-made howls greet the listener before singer Bobby Gillespie makes it clear that this will not be a Sunday walk in the park: "Hey there girl, summer girl/ Suicidal beautiful/ I can see, death in me/ Death in you, love is good." Other voices join in on the chorus, intoning "Shine on me/ Shine on everyone/ Black is the color/ Deep hit of morning sun." The second verse expands on the imagery of the first, with "Lose your friends one by one/ To the lead and to the gun/ To the fires to the bone/ To slow death to fast burn," before the chorus returns, a sepulchral chant over the droning machinery followed by a funereal-sounding solitary guitar, notes bent and wah-ed, continuing on through a third rendition of the chorus. And with that, the darkly minimalist tone of the album is clearly established.
The sense that Primal Scream are up to something new and compelling is unfortunately dashed by most of the remaining material. The first single, "Miss Lucifer," attempts to recapture the danceable buzz of "Swastika Eyes" from their previous album, Xtrmntr. Where that song rode buoyant, swirling production to a compelling contrast with Gillespie's anti-corporate rant, "Miss Lucifer" describes a Nancy Sinatra-ish character ("Skinny girl, dressed in black/ Leather boots, Nancy hair/ ...Sexy dancer, immaculate grace"), repeatedly intoning her to "shake it, baby." Um, shagadelic.
"Autobahn 66" drones on for more than six minutes on little more than a monotonous drum machine and tinkling keyboard parts, occasionally interrupted by a keyboard sound that does, in fact, vaguely resemble the sound a car might make cruising down the Autobahn. "Detroit" features Jim Reid (of the late Jesus & Mary Chain, which included Gillespie on drums in its original incarnation) singing about how he destroys everything he touches over another annoying, very '80s-sounding, stomping drum-machine-and-synth riff.
The album's centerpiece is "Rise," resurrected from its previous life, when it was known as "Bomb the Pentagon" and played live back in the summer of 2001. I don't think I'm assuming too much in suspecting that they just swapped out the original titular chorus in favor of an exhortation to "rise," presumably against the military-industrial complex described throughout the verses. "Rise" is one of the strongest tracks here, featuring the rubbery bass of Gary "Mani" Mounfield (ex-Stone Roses) working effectively with the incessant, militaristic drumming.
The album's other high point is the MC5-inspired "City," slightly changed from its earlier incarnation as a David Holmes-Primal Scream collaboration (on Holmes' Bow Down to the Exit Sign). "City" paints a picture of urban decay over some downright dirty-sounding guitars, bass and drums. Cooling things down and building on "Miss Lucifer's" nod to Nancy Sinatra, Primal Scream enlist model Kate Moss to duet on Sinatra's Lee Hazelwood-penned hit "Some Velvet Morning," recast to a minimalist, synthetic groove.
Primal Scream fail to earn a truth-in-advertising award with Evil Heat, which isn't all that evil or hot. No doubt the pressure was on to live up to the acclaim that showered 2000's brilliant Xtrmntr, but Bobby Gillespie and company come up short here, perhaps shaken by the chaos that has threatened to envelop the world over the past year. After spending the fairly peaceful, prosperous 1990s exhorting people to (I'm paraphrasing here) mess shit up, it's got to be unnerving for Primal Scream to see just how quickly the world situation has in fact deteriorated in the new millennium. And while I don't expect a pop band to offer cogent solutions, I did have hopes that Primal Scream might do more than just reflect today's troubles. As an optimist, I remain hopeful that they may do so next time around.