A new Primal Scream release is always an intriguing proposition; one never has any idea what to expect. Bobby Gillespie and his band of merry men have tried out so many sounds over the course of their career, taken on so many collaborators, dabbled in so many disciplines and messed with so many styles, that each time they reappear… They could be anything.
Paisley garage revivalists. Indie-dance figureheads. Drug-addled boogieing space cadets. Dubbed-out road warriors. Millennial technopunk provocateurs. Stomping automatic rock-and-rollers. Blissful krautrock agitators. These are just a few of the incarnations this group has embodied, embraced, and incorporated.
So when this new single arrived, I knew I’d need to give it more than a cursory listen. It’s the first track from their forthcoming album, and on it, they share billing with a guest vocalist, singer/songwriter Sky Ferreira. I wondered how her voice would meld with whatever sound the band adopted this time around. I had a moment of concern that this was simply a calculated gambit to reach a younger audience. I waited until I got home from work. I queued up the video. I waited the five seconds until I could skip the ad, clicked, and let the song begin.
A minute and a half in, I was deeply skeptical. Two minutes in, I was intrigued. The breakdown hit, and I was thinking it was really pretty good. It ended, and I restarted it. I ended up listening to it at least eight more times in a row before falling asleep that night.
Many days later, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve played it. Three dozen? Four dozen? More? A lot. I don’t know. I don’t remember the last time I listened to a song like this: just to hear it, yes, but also to try to get inside it. To understand the feeling, dissect the elements, and take notes. To figure it out.
And somewhere in all that listening, it became my new favorite tune, the notes and my notes taking on a shape that I could make sense of. The song begins, I scribble down what’s happening, I press play again, and I keep writing and listening.
Electronic twinkling gives way to a whirlpool of keyboard and guitar, burbling bass tones and processed 4/4 drum patterns. The vocals bounce back and forth from Gillespie to Ferreira, trading off phrases and almost connecting for the chorus.
His tone wavers between too-cool-for-school understatement and something higher and fiercer, while she’s in pure diva mode, breathy and commanding, queen of her domain, keeping a tight hold on her heart and voice. The music burbles and swoops, transfixing and calculated and infectious, a radio-friendly 21st Century Frankenstein’s monster, full of punk swagger and covered in sequins: a giant hazy glittering rock and roll mess.
It sounds like twenty things at once, electro and 60s loungecore and modern Top 40, jangly breakdowns and thriftstore disco glamor, a Nancy and Lee duet for a world where everyone has a dance party in their pocket all the time. The scenario is established in two verses and two choruses, a strobelit montage of seduction and spontaneous motion. Sounds bubble up and fade back down, conjuring tragic romance and peak-hour club fever. The tension keeps rising, pushing right up to the point where everything melts into instinctual blissed-out movement.
And then, the guitar solo descends from the ceiling like a mirror ball made of razor blades, shredding the light into neon shrapnel, confetti and ribbons of color falling across the crowd. It’ll be hell for clean out of your clothes tomorrow, but right now, it just makes you want to keep dancing and drinking and making out, and maybe find the right someone to fall apart with.
The lyrics? They’re swirling around, intangible but clearly within reach, vague enough to be universal. We get glimmers of broken, tragic relationship metaphor: “Hard to make it through this world alone”. “Obsession, possession, temptation, transgression”. Ferreira swings around the syllables, and Gillespie dips in and out of the spotlight beside her. They’re singing the words and letting us connect the dots; saying just enough and feeling like everything. It’s messy, it’s calculated, it’s stitched together and contradictory and irresistible.
This is a trick that great pop music can pull off: when you assemble the right elements, the seams don’t matter. The moving parts are all in view, the flaws are right up in front, and seeing them only enhances the sense of magic, rather than pulling us out of the experience. Somewhere, it’s 5AM and people are dancing, and for the time this song is playing, it’s that moment forever.
So yeah, this may claim to be a song about love and illusion and heartbreak, but really, it’s not about any of that. It’s just a song about being a great pop song. It’s the feeling of a night’s worth of going out and losing track of time, from first drink to first dance to sunrise in the space of three minutes fifty. It’s about words that sound good together. It’s about those fleeting moments that disappear once you start to think about them. It’s the sound of a band that’s been some fifteen or twenty different bands over the past thirty-four years, and are still doing whatever they think might be fun.
You can buy ‘Where The Light Gets In’ and preorder the full ‘Chaosmosis’ album here.