You wouldn’t like Primal Scream when they’re angry. Or maybe you would. The band’s second-wind masterpiece, the vowelless and grim XTRMNTR, squeezed industrial beats and scorching overdrive from anti-corporate, anti-government rage. More Light, the more recent 2013 comeback from the Scream, summoned some of the old bile, railing against “elected criminals,” “legalized crime,” and the Iron Lady (Thatcher) herself.
Now, as sea levels rise and America confronts the spectre of fascism at home, comes Chaosmosis, the 11th album from Bobby Gillespie and co. The fury’s muted. Maybe More Light and Chaosmosis ought to have swapped titles—the new album is disarmingly bright, relatively brief and altogether swathed in a technicolor pop sheen. Though recorded all over (New York, London, Stockholm) and birthed from the titular chaos, Chaosmosis emerged quicker than the average Scream album, and the underlying message is more “Gettin’ out of the darkness” than “Exterminate the underclass.”
Evolution’s essential for the group, but self-referentialism isn’t forbidden: “Trippin’ On Your Love,” which opens the album in a whirl of major-key piano and some half-hearted crowd cajoling from Mr. Gillespie, is an obvious “Movin’ On Up” throwback for all but the greenest Scream neophyte. “Autumn in Paradise,” thirty-something minutes later, echoes Screamadelica’s come-down segment, though the song runs on fine, sighing melodicism more than acid-house psychedelia. The track’s paradisal vision sounds appealing, but reality butts in: “Who can afford the price?” Gillespie asks.
Chaosmosis reunites the group with Peter Bjorn and John guy Björn Yttling, who produced 2008’s Beautiful Future and accounts for some of the glossiness here. But the guest list also belies some late-career pop aspirations: Sky Ferreira emerges for a duet on the pulsing but hollow “Where The Light Gets In,” which never quite transcends the sum of its glittery-pop parts, while that’s none other than Haim adding color around the edges of “Trippin’ On Your Love” and the bland call-and-response raver “100% or Nothing.” The pop sisters made unlikely friends out of Primal Scream when playing at Glastonbury a few summers ago, and their sparkly dynamic is an odd fit for Gillespie’s wild-eyed Stooges worship.
“Private Wars,” featuring Rachel Zeffira of Cat’s Eyes, gasps at acoustic respite and succeeds, even if the song sinks into platitudes (“Fill your heart with love / Ease your heart of rage”). But the real glimmer of darkness comes on “Golden Rope,” just when you suspect the record’s first and only rocker’s finished. “I love that there is something wrong with me,” Gillespie repeats over layers of organ until you believe it. Also worth noting: “I Can Change,” an incongruous but nimble stab at falsetto soul.
There’s no readymade career trajectory you can box Primal Scream into. The band’s 30-year acid trip of a career defies easy narratives—it’s never been a steady slide down from greatness (file under: Oasis) or a perilously long wait for a comeback masterpiece (My Bloody Valentine) or even an altogether conscious attempt to shake off their roots (post-1996 Blur). Instead, the band’s best works and stylistic benchmarks come and go like natural phenomena across decades of change. Chaosmosis, though full of small pleasures, will undoubtedly go down as a minor work in the Scream discography. Primal Scream’s best records dissolved genres together like potions; Chaosmosis seems happy just to ride out the groove.