mon 26/07/2021

Album: Bobby Gillespie and Jehnny Beth - Utopian Ashes | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Bobby Gillespie and Jehnny Beth - Utopian Ashes

Album: Bobby Gillespie and Jehnny Beth - Utopian Ashes

Doomed love ruefully dissected by an appealing odd couple

Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra’s “Some Velvet Morning” is a clichéd indie-rock odd couple touchstone, and after an initial duet on Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream” during the latter’s chaotic 2015 Barbican swansong, Bobby Gillespie and Jehnny Beth tried on Lee and Nancy’s threads the next year.

Utopian Ashes followed, mutually developing music they recorded with most of Primal Scream and Beth’s main foil outside Savages, Johnny Hostile. What makes this more than pastiche or side-project is the songs, which cut deeply and coherently into adult relationships as they simmer and immolate. It’s an album of dualities deeper than its contrasting singers.

Gillespie takes most of the leads. His voice is too reedily weak to ever be called great, and yet its yearning frailty as he stretches for Southern country-soul feeling from straining Glasgow roots has matched his band’s ersatz but true touch on real heartbreakers like “(I’m Gonna) Cry Myself Blind”, and rises to the occasion here. Beth is more coolly plain-speaking, as when singing, “You wonder why I don’t have sex with you any more” on “Living a Lie”. Utopian Ashes is in many ways another Primal Scream stylistic detour, and among their most convincing this century, in a discography replete with crucial guest-stars.

Utopian Ashes hinges on the raw humanity beneath the sometimes dulled surface of a long marriage: the compromises, defeats and betrayals. Rather than mourn passion’s frayed flipside, it sanctifies feelings as messily human as Screamadelica’s crests and comedowns. There’s a sense that anything you can get is a kind of victory, for however long it lasts. “And I don’t even love you any more/Love while you can,” opener “Chase It Down” advises, in a voice of experience still blunter on “Living a Lie”: “There’s a price to pay for living.../We lie just to stay alive.” Released in the week a high-flying political career with responsibility for millions of lives has taken an Icarus dive over passion with youthful roots, such truths are always timely.

The voices’ interweaving threads through the music, as acoustic guitars clang like slamming doors behind Gillespie’s bitter soliloquies on “You Don’t Know What Love Is”, while harps prettily ripple and electric guitars squall in the clashing intro to “Living a Lie”, and low honkytonk piano haunts Gillespie’s disreputable vocal on “You Can Trust Me Now”. “Remember We Were Lovers” sees country-soul strings repeat their Sisyphean climb, till Stax horns stab the heart as Gillespie glumly repeats the title, which somehow becomes a transcendent promise.

“English Town” detours to a deeper malaise, the sodden, cramped country of the post-war noir It Always Rains On Sunday, in an Anglo-French chanson also recalling Callan’s mordant spy theme. “Death and cricket every day,” Gillespie spits of the English disease, amusingly if wrongly (daily cricket sounds like the cure).

This album-long account of failed love is as romantic as any previous Primal Scream album, and much more obviously so than last year’s coolly erotic Beth solo album, To Love Is To Live. You could swap that album’s title with this, though. George Jones could sing these songs, and the current Stones might struggle to play them as well. They are comedown anthems for your whole life.

The songs cut deeply and coherently into adult relationships as they simmer and immolate

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters