Alternative rock icons take on a funk-pop country album about heartbreak
Primal Scream frontman Bobby Gillespie and Savages frontwoman Jehnny Beth join their rock ‘n’ roll forces in their newest collaboration record, Utopian Ashes. The record followed a fictionalized timeline of a couple caught in the storm of a pre-divorce, highlighting the ups and downs of their relationship. While both artists are known for their iconic alternative rock sounds, Utopian Ashes shines with elements of country, rock, blues, psychedelic pop with touches of classical cinematic moments. The album is a beautiful collaboration of two rock icons testing new limits and tones.
With a long-lasting musical career that kicked off at Primal Scream’s conception back in 1982, Gillespie has built a flourishing musical presence. The Scottish is well known as the founder and writer for the rock band Primal Scream as well as the drummer for The Jesus and Mary Chain back in the ‘80s. Over the years with Primal Scream, he has 11 full-length albums under his belt and seven albums with The Jesus and Mary Chain, but Utopian Ashes marks Gillespie’s first solo record, well almost solo. Joining forces with French artist Jehnny Beth, best known for being the other half of Savages, she brings her punk rock vocals into play along with Gillespie’s airy rock vocal tone. While this may be the Primal Scream frontman’s first solo album, this comes in as Beth’s second, though she carries several artist collaborations under her musical belt as well as different acting and writing projects.
Both artists came together creating a storyline album focusing on a relationship beginning its road to divorce, while they both dip their toes in the unexplored musical territory. The album brings out a more emotional and raw tone to Gillespie’s voice while bringing out a sweet gentleness within Beth’s. There are so many elements that come into play for Utopian Ashes it is hard to put your finger on just one. Each song varies, going from a country twang to ‘60s psychedelic pop, making this record a rollercoaster of emotions to follow the flowing storyline.
The kick-off single for the album is the funky track “Chase It Down.” The song starts with a raw acoustic guitar and lush strings, but emerging for the background is a funky wah guitar turning the track from folk/country to a ‘60s psycho-funky song. Both Beth and Gillespie’s vocals blend smoothly together, complementing each other through the chorus and bringing emotion to the lyrics. The lyrical mantra sung is “I don’t even love you anymore” until the end sets up the destructive storyline.
Like an old-school country ballad, “Remember We were Lovers” slows the tempo down with an emotional ballad. This song cries for the fading love between two people who wish they still felt the love that once was. While, at times, both singers carry strong burning emotion in their voices, there are moments where the song falls short. Beth’s voice, at moments, almost seems to struggle and feels tight, as if it does not fit or feel comfortable breaking the emotional connection while listening to the song. It is a slow country ballad that croons and longs for better times with minor droning bass and guitar with a church organ driving in the background.
“You Can Trust Me Now” kicks off with Gillespie delivering a spoken word poem relinquishing himself of past guilt now asking for trust. A beautiful symphony of strings rises once the poem is completed, then a full cowboy western style ensemble joins in. The track is a luminous blend of cinematic strings and country, giving it an old western movie feel. Another song that utilized a classical cinematic feel is “Living a Lie.” While this song replaces the country tone in “ You Can Trust Me Now” with a wavy psycho-pop tone, it keeps the classical element at the beginning. Kicking off the track is a lush fluttering of harp strings that comes back during the verses.
Utopian Ashes is a great storyboard-themed record pieced together by two alternative rock icons. Both Bobby Gillespie and Jehnny Beth have put their musical minds together to create an album far from what they are known for, dipping their toes in the unknown tone and coming out with a strong collaboration.