By branching from dance-pop music into rock 'n' roll, blues, funk, techno-dance, and soul, is Scotland's Primal Scream hip-hopping from trend to trend?
Band spokesman Bobby Gillespie tends to disagree with rock critics in assessing the group's motivations.
While some critics have labeled the band opportunistic and derivative, Gillespie, 26, defends the stylistic shifts of its latest album, "Give Out but Don't Give Up," as part of a natural progression.
"Basically, we wanted more variety, including a funkier, chunkier sound that's more guitar-oriented and less reliant on keyboards," Gillespie explained by telephone from a San Francisco stop on a tour with Depeche Mode that reaches Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre on Friday.
Back in 1984, Gillespie was the drummer for another Scottish band, the much-acclaimed Jesus and Mary Chain. He decided to take time off ("I wanted to write songs and sing") and join forces with guitarists Andrew Innes and Robert Young to form Primal Scream. (The current band now also includes keyboardist Martin Duffy and bassist Henry Olson, plus touring vocalist Denise Johnson and drummer Steve Sidelnyk.)
Their biggest hit was the 1987 dance remix of "Loaded." "Come Together," a pulsating mix of rock and techno, followed and gave the group its second Top 30 hit in England. Primal Scream's 1991 American debut album, 'Screamadelica," has been certified gold.
On "Give Out but Don't Give Up," the band retreats from techno-dance pop and veers into new terrain, ranging from '70s-style rock and blues to slow-moving ballads to funk and soul.
In the attempt to broaden its sound, the group has taken some hits.
"The criticism has been dumb, frankly," he insisted in his thick Scottish brogue. "We just play our style. . . . We're not into musical fashions. We wanted horns on the record, but I can't play them. No one in the band can, so we got the Memphis Horns (Andrew Love and Wayne Jackson). It's hard to get the right players for the right sound, but I think we did."
Gillespie then made an analogy with sensitive British pop star Morrissey, whose last album got mixed reviews.
"When he was (lead singer and songwriter) with the Smiths, Morrissey got rave reviews," he said. "But some of his solo work was ripped for sounding too much like the Smiths--'He should have moved on musically,' they wrote. My problem with critics is they want you to change and develop, but when you do, (they complain that) you've lost your style or character."
Several musical changes do work well on "Give Out but Don't Give Up." Sounding like a breeding of the Rolling Stones and Blues Traveler, both "Jailbird" and "Rocks" kick up lots of dust, while "Funky Jam"--co-sung, produced and remixed by funkmaster George Clinton--slithers and twists with infectious rhythms.
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise, though, is "(I'm Gonna) Cry Myself Blind." Sung by Gillespie with remarkable emotional depth and resonance, this ballad cuts straight to the heart with its tale of longing and loss.
"It is one of my favorite Scream songs," Gillespie said. "I get sucked into its melancholy mood. . . . I get kind of a lazy, dreamy feeling whenever I sing it. There's something strange about it that touches me deeply."
What does Gillespie see in the next chapter of the saga of Primal Scream?
"Man, I don't even know what I'm doing tomorrow," he said. "Someone told me we're going to Caesar's Palace, so I guess I'm off to Vegas for our next gig."
\o7 * Depeche Mode, Primal Scream and Stabbing Westward play Friday at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, 8800 Irvine Center Drive, Irvine. 8 p.m. $21 and $28.50. (714) 740-2000 (Ticketmaster). The same bill appears Saturday at the Glen Helen Blockbuster Pavilion in Devore. (909) 880-6500. \f7