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Heat Death

 

Primal Scream: Evil Heat

Columbia, 2002

Rating: 3.5

 

 

Posted: August 22, 2002

By Laurence Station

Head Primal Screamer Bobby Gillespie considers Evil Heat, the band's eighth album since 1987, "electronic garage band future rock 'n' roll." Which turns out to be a fairly accurate, if oddly worded, assessment, especially when one considers the wildly varying styles of the record's main producers, former My Bloody Valentine noise constructionist Kevin Shields and the duo of Andy Weatherall and Keith Tenniswood (known in Intelligent Dance Music circles as Two Lone Swordsmen). Where Shields goes for heavily layered guitar assaults and impenetrably dense beats, Weatherall and Tenniswood opt for more spacious, elastic and non-threatening tones. Surprisingly, the conflict between these two diametrically opposed approaches adds more than it subtracts to Evil Heat's overall impact, providing much-needed tension in an otherwise drugged-out, noncommittal affair.

But that freshness of tension comes at a price; the loss of Primal Scream's personality. Gillespieís reedy voice is present and the lyrics (never the bandís strong suit) still riotously articulated, but itís the studio accoutrements that take center stage throughout. Primal Scream energetically does its part, but thatís all it feels like, but one aspect of a larger tableau. Itís as if the band, having run low on fresh ideas, called in old friends for much needed inspiration, perhaps hoping outside assistance might add fuel to the bandís collective creative fire before it was extinguished altogether. But that gambit backfires, as the band takes a creative back seat throughout.

The Shields-produced lead track, "Deep Hit Of Morning Sun," offers up a pessimistic outlook -- "Lose your friends/ One by one/ To the needle /To the gun /To the virus/ To the bomb/ By slow death/ By fast burn" -- while raving the night away to a manic, pulsating drone. Jagz Kooner's production on "Miss Lucifer" builds on the opener's furious pace, with relentless drum work evoking a kaleidoscopic swirl of trippy colors and nameless faces where one-night stands are de rigueur, and formal introductions between prospective partners not required.

Just as a dominant tenor of chaos and sleaze is established, however, Weatherall and Tenniswood restore order with the bright, outdoorsy "Autobahn 66," an homage to Kraut Rock in general and 1970s electronica pioneers Kraftwerk and Neu! in particular. The song's simple, propulsive beat alters the entire mood of Evil Heat, jerking it out of the dim urban squalor of drug-fueled late-night clubbing in favor of a sunnier, more expansive sound.

But the reprieve proves brief as Shields takes the reins for the next four tunes: adding caustic, feedback-drenched orchestration to "Detroit;" layers of noise behind the percussive thrust of the politically-charged ďRise;" crunchy guitars and shrieking harmonica work compliments of Robert "I've got a new album out, too, you know" Plant on the unpleasantly violent "The Lord Is My Shotgun;" and Shield's own signature ringing guitar work on "City," an ode to vintage '70s hard rock with a dash of glam.

Following this straitjacketed crush, comes Evil Heat's most memorable and weirdly wonderful moment; a cover of the Nancy Sinatra/Lee Hazelwood duet "Some Velvet Morning," with Gillespie and model Kate Moss turning in a heroin chic take on the '60s pop hit. The Swordsmen's techno knob fiddling adds an effective acid house wash to the song's coy lyrical interplay.

Shields caps his run with the punked-out, Stooges-esque" Skull X," which sports the encouraging line "when boredom kills/ shoot morphine pills." But Weatherall and Tenniswood get the final say with the excellent "A Scanner Darkly," a full-on, nighttime cruiser of an electronica instrumental complete with digital squiggles and turn signal clicks that, like "Autobahn 66," manages to convey what the Shields numbers do not: a sense of motion, of positive progression. The subdued, vacuous closer, "Space Blues Number 2," a Second Coming ramble as viewed from the gutter after an all-night binge, proves the Two Lone Swordsmen's lone misfire.

Despite its fair share of druggy numbers, Evil Heat achieves neither the exuberant, ecstasy-fueled nirvana of the band's 1991 masterpiece, Screamadelica, nor (despite a smattering of venom-laced lyrics) the left-wing political terror-attack of 2000's Xtrmntr. Instead, it falls somewhere between those two poles, which seems only fitting given the schizophrenic nature of its production. It's as if Primal Scream were but a tool in a studio production workshop designed to see who could draw the most interesting sounds from a veteran outfit struggling to redefine its identity as it closes in on twenty years of existence.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A classic
 4.0-4.9: Stellar work
 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
 2.0-2.9: Nothing special
 1.1-1.9: Pretty bad
 0.0-1.0: Total disaster

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