Primal Scream were one of Scotland’s most innovative and groundbreaking acts to appear in the late 1980’s and early ‘90s, who somehow managed to bring rave and indie fans together on the same dance floor, and a band determined to stretch the constraints of rock via a heady blend of dub and dance oriented rock and roll tunes. Their pinnacle was 1991’s Screamadelica, itself a hedonistic mix of styles both old and new and a reawakening of sorts for those who loved their ecstacy yet were more inclined to guitar, bass and drums while they were sharing the love with their living room furniture.
Released in 1994, Give Out But Don’t Give Up was the band’s follow up, only this time, instead of Andy Weatherall behind the mixing desk, they brought in Tom Dowd and George Drakoulias to produce. Which could only mean one thing – that the group were intent on recording a more back to basics funk-rock album, in the vein of The Rolling Stones, Sly Stone, and more recent retro-rock behemoths The Black Crowes.
After a brief drum loop, we’re off with the rocking “Jailbird”. Robert Young’s guitar is earthy and addictive, while Bobby Gillespie does his best to resemble a Scottish Mick Jagger in all his laconic ennui. Just think The Stone Roses meets Exile On Main Street, only with far cleaner production. On “Rocks” I’m divided as to who they remind me of the most; The Rolling Stones or The Black Crowes. One thing’s for certain, Gillespie’s vocals are no match for Chris Robinson. In fact, if you watch the video to this song, I’d say that old Bobby must have watched Robinson and thought “Yeah, I want a piece of that. And by the way, what’s happened to all my sniff?”. Nevertheless it’s a great party song, which is all that really matters at the end of the day. Isn’t it?
The band gets all lovelorn and sentimental on “(I’m Gonna) Cry Myself Blind”, a song which no doubt Jagger/Richards have probably written about a million of. The chorus is indeed catchy, and there are some nice moments throughout, but it ain’t no “Fool To Cry”.
George Clinton joins them on the pretentious and over-cooked “Funky Jam”, which sounds just like what it is – a bunch of white Scottish lads attempting to ‘black-it-up’ and appear far cooler than they really are. “Big Jet Plane” is country-rock by numbers (give me the heroin fuelled “Sweet Virginia” any day), while “Free” is the first song so far which seems to have some genuine soul to it, thanks to the wonderful singing of Denise Johnson. Gillespie is back on the Faces/Stones infused “Call On Me”, and which contains all the necessary ingredients of your classic early ‘70s rock song, i.e. plenty of slide guitar, a horn section, piano, and gospel choir.
“Struttin’” is little more than a funky jam, marred by some annoying synthesizer effects. Sure the whole thing is rather spacey, but at eight minutes it does start to grate on my middle aged nerves at about the half way mark. The band unleashes another nonspecific bluesy ballad in the form of “Sad and Blue”. And when Gillespie sings “let your love light shine” I’m surprised that the rock and roll police weren’t knocking on his door so as to fine him for breaching the clichéd lyrics act circa 1972.
The languid, almost tribal sounding title track is a loosely structured composition with George Clinton and Denise Johnson contributing vocals. The whole song is a bit like Sly and the Family Stone on ecstacy. In fact, listening to it has rendered me so listless that I can’t even be bothered getting off the couch to turn down the volume. The same with “I’ll Be There For You”, which is essentially one of those insipid ‘I love you baby’ ballads. The playing is all there, but I have to say, as a song it absolutely sucks.
The CD ends with the leisurely and emotionally unmoving “Everybody Needs Somebody”, where the band pulls out pretty much every country-rock truism known to man, from the soaring lead guitar to the angelic backing vocals and the Billy Preston inspired organ. It’s all here.
If I were 18 and had never heard The Rolling Stones, Spooky Tooth, or the Faces, and had parents whose idea of good music was Smokie and Mungo Jerry, then my opinion of this album might be somewhat different. When it’s good, it’s good. Though for me it’s a case of “Exile On Plain Street”. There’s nothing wrong with a band wanting to rock-out every now and then, but one gets the feeling that it just wasn’t in their bones.