Wednesday, May 16

See Tim Review: Echoes and Rhymes by The Primitives

Both of my regular readers might recall that one of the bands I loved in high school back in the late '80s was the Primitives, a Coventry, England-based outfit led by vocalist Tracy Tracy and guitarist Paul Court. It wasn't just because I'm a sucker for leather-jacketed dudes with slicked-back hair rocking out while a classy  dame with moxie to burn cooed and snarled into the microphone. Nor was it merely because they had a lyric that went "Who's that boy with the turquoise head / walking 'round like he's still in bed?" It was also because they had the musical chops to back up their surface charms. The Primitives specialized in a wonderfully infectious style of guitar pop that was equal parts Blondie swagger, '60s girl group sweetness, and scuzzy, fuzzy, Jesus and Mary Chain–style chainsaw ruckus. Their self-released early singles, such as "Really Stupid," "Stop Killing Me," and "Thru the Flowers," put them on the map and got them a record deal with RCA. Morrissey was even seen around town/in the cemetery with a Primitives T-shirt on. 

You might know them for their most famous single, "Crash," which hit the Top 10 in the UK and was a big college radio hit in the US. The accompanying album Lovely was a classic pop masterpiece with ear worms galore, like "Buzz Buzz Buzz," "Run Baby Run," and "I'll Stick With You." It was a smash hit in Britain and a moderate success in the States that sadly has mostly gone unremembered in the intervening years. 

Their second record, Pure, was more polished and psychedelic, but still delivered the pop candy the band had become famous for. (Well, famous in England, which, in stateside parlance, is kind of like, I don't know, being really really big in Buffalo?) But by the time of its release, the Primitives had already reached their sell-by date with the British music press, which had already moved on to Madchester (to be replaced by shoegaze to be replaced by Nirvana) and was ready to get on to the gleefully vicious backlash that was due any UK band with the nerve to stick around for more than a few years, no matter how catchy their singles were. ("Tracy who?") Their glossy, sometimes treacly, but still fun-filled final album, Galore, wasn't even released in the US and sank like a stone in the UK. The band called it quits soon afterwards. 

In the past few years, a new generation of young hipsters have been taking their cues, wittingly or not, from the template set by the band. A direct line can be drawn between the Primitives and, for example, the Raveonettes, the Dum Dum Girls, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Best Coast, Frankie Rose, and Vivian Girls. It was the advent of this collection of acts that brought the Primitives name back into circulation a few years ago.

I certainly never thought we'd hear from them again. Tracy Tracy, I figured, was surely now a designer of china doll lingerie living in the south of France. Paul Court was probably a hip high school band teacher in Brighton, and the drummer was... playing drums for scraps of food in Leicester Square? Maybe. Anyway, they were living their separate lives now, like Phil Collins and whoever that woman was who did that terrible duet with him back in 1985.

Fast forward to 2009, when the band members reunited under sad circumstances--the funeral of their original bassist Steve Dullaghan. This grief-tinged reunion led to the band deciding to make music together again. They did a small British tour and even did a one-off show in Brooklyn that I went to and wet myself over. They re-emerged last year with an excellent four-track EP, Never Kill a Secret, which featured their first new material in 21 years, and it was smashing. Now they've finally unleashed another full album, Echoes and Rhymes, and it's the best thing they've done since Lovely.

Echoes and Rhymes is an album of covers of obscure tracks from the '60s (a few from the '70s), but because most of these songs are unknown, this expertly performed, produced, and sequenced record feels, for all intents and purposes, like an album of Primitives originals. Single "Turn Off the Moon" was originally performed by Sue Lyon, who played the titular role of Lolita in Stanley Kubrick's 1962 film, when she was only 14. Tracy Tracy makes the song her own, though, as she does with other zippy tunes like "Move It On Over" (a LeGrand Mellon song), "Single Girl" (Sandy Posey), "Who Are You Trying to Fool?" (originally by Little Anne), and "Time Slips Away" (Shocking Blue). Following the band's tradition of Paul Court taking the lead on two songs per album, the guitarist breezily takes on Nico ("I'm Not Saying") and The She Trinity ("Wild Flower"). The songs have full, muscular arrangements (my favorite kind), and there is no filler. The band sounds cocked and freaking ready for it, and Tracy's vocals absolutely shimmer. Clocking in at a mere thirty-five minutes, it leaves you eager for another fabulous outing by this criminally underappreciated band.

TRACY, PAUL, COME TO NYC AGAIN! (And Paul, cut that hair.)

In conclusion, here is my favorite moment from the Primitives' Brooklyn show last year.

Full SeeTimBlog Primitives coverage here.