Coventry’s Primitives are one of best results of a British pop genre that first gained notoriety around 1986, in the wake of the Jesus and Mary Chain (but with a backwards nod to early Blondie). Characterized by selfconsciously na‹ve vocals and distorto-guitar backing tracks that pay tribute to the ’60s while reveling in post-punk insouciance, such efforts can either be utterly charming or noxiously grating. Thanks to excellent songwriting and the enchanting vocals of Tracy Tracy (guitarist/songwriter Paul Court sings the occasional tune as well), the Primitives have made some sparkling catchy bubblegum gems. Unfortunately, the young quartet peaked early and has been sagging downhill ever since.
The most memorable tracks on the wonderful Lovely reprise material from the group’s early UK singles. (The American edition was reissued with the post-LP “Way Behind Me,” also included on Pure). Produced by Paul Sampson (a veteran, with Paul King, of the Reluctant Stereotypes, who later became the Primitives’ bassist), Lovely runs through a variety of musical formats — from abject California bubblegum pop (“Thru the Flowers,” the ultimate “Crash,” “Stop Killing Me”) to early Blondiepunk (“Nothing Left”) and ’60’s mock-Indian psychedelia (“Shadow”). An ingenious and tune-crazy album of instantly accessible pop standards.
The two inter-album EPs contain some interesting non-LP material. The Out of Reach 12-inch plucks four songs from Lovely and adds live takes of “Crash” and “Really Stupid.” Secrets, a two-song preview of Pure, adds the song’s demo and a non-LP bonus.
Pure has its charms, but this attempt to fancy things up in the face of inconsistent material leaves it no match for the first LP. Bookended by the rushing “Secrets” and the gently swaying “Summer Rain,” fine songs like “Outside,” “Lonely Streets” and the spectacular “Way Behind Me” all unearth delightful new ingredients with which to modulate the group’s stylistic approach. Amusing little guitar references to the Who, Status Quo and Sonny and Cher add to the fun. But other songs are halfbaked or dull, pale rewrites of prior tunes. Slathering echo on the vocals in an obvious homage to the J&M Chain (“All the Way Down”) is a bad idea, as is the mild infusion of Manchester house rhythm in the clunky “Sick of It.” (The British album has two songs not on the American; the British CD further adds an alternate version of “All the Way Down” and “I Almost Touched You” from the Secrets EP.)
Compiling the Primitives’ first four releases, 86-88 includes the miserably primitive Thru the Flowers debut EP and the title track’s vastly superior remake, two additional three-song singles (“Really Stupid” and “Stop Killing Me,” both with neat non-LP tunes) and a rare alternate version of “Shadow” from a limited-edition give-away 45.