Countrified tales of heartbreak.
Utopian Ashes is a duet record. Primal Scream frontman Bobby Gillespie and Savages vocalist Jehnny Beth quarrel their way across the record with a savage fury, recalling Coolidge and Kristofferson or Carter and Cash. The titles line up to rip your heart out: ‘Stones Of Silence’, ‘Living A Lie’, ‘You Don’t Know What Love Is’.
Think Burton and Taylor too, playing it on a loop on the god-awful night of Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? Nonetheless, and here’s the rub, it all sounds George Jones and Tammy Wynette wonderful. On the vaudeville merry-go-round of ‘English Town’, they crave escape from one another, but in a comely John Prine/Iris DeMent manner. The bittersweet country blues of ‘You Heart Will Always Be Broken’, meanwhile, is gorgeously tinged with the spirit of Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris.
The studio band consists of three Primals and Beth’s longtime collaborator, Johnny Hostile – yet neither artist has ever sounded anything quite like this. Seeds-like, the band leave Gillespie and Beth to their eternal squabble, busying themselves sculpting a soaring, cinematic sound. Andrew Innes’ guitar and Gillespie’s loose delivery on ‘Chase It Down’ recall the Screams’ Southern soul phase, but it’s a sparser, more liberated sound here.
That allows Beth to enter with her controlled choruses, bringing to mind Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood on lead single ‘Remember We Were Lovers’. It is a record for the wee small hours, to fall in love to – and break up with.