Primitons – Don’t Go Away: Collected Works

A restaurant in Buckhead used to have graffiti complaining that the guys in Primitons said they didn’t have influences. Whoever wrote that had a point. The Birmingham, Alabama group had plenty of obvious influences. They released their 7-track debut on the Throbbing Lobster label in 1985, so their Byrdsian jangle could just as easily have been tracked back to the Paisley Underground. At least the LP – despite the obligatory Mitch Easter production – lacked the reliable Southern trappings of the Athens and Chapel Hill scenes. Primitons were too busy improving on their influences, as they mixed their fey ways and artsy ambition with the directness of Thin Lizzy.

The results turned out to be fairly timeless, as heard on the tracks that make up Don’t Go Away: Collected Works. Singer/songwriter Mats Roden and drummer/accordionist Leif Bondarenko – newly paired with housewife/lyricist Stephanie Truelove Wright – had started out with Birmingham’s bizarre Jim Bob & the Leisure Suits. That band had made an impressive transition from novelty-act punks to unclassifiable quirky rockers. Back then, Roden was sporting Hawaiian shirts and a mustache. He wouldn’t move on to a Swinging Sixties fashion sense, either. Roden would go from wearing wigs to growing out his thinning hair and looking more like a mutated flower child.

Some people say that Primitons’ biggest mistake was refusing to hire a sexier frontman, but that’s questionable. Prince Be would look a lot like Roden when P.M. Dawn topped the charts in 1991. The problem certainly wasn’t Primitons’ songs. Wright’s lyrics were ambiguous but poetic, and never darker than a particularly good Gothic romance novel. Don’t Go Away shows Primitons making their own transition from the baroqueness of their debut to a heady mix of rock and pop – and some country – that made up 1987’s Happy All The Time. That progress includes three tracks from the 12” EP that first showcased Happy’s superbly giddy “Don’t Go Away” – which I insisted on reviewing as a romantic pop song despite Roden explaining that it was actually some kind of treatise on the metaphysical.

There’s also a lovely take on the Left Banke’s “Something On My Mind,” and there weren’t many bands embracing anything that wimpy back then. That couldn’t have helped to win over the radio programmers. Now it’s kind of sad to see all the Primitons vinyl summed up on a single disc. Fortunately, the CD also offers 11 extra downloads of fine rarities covering the Primitons’ career – including their final days, with Roden getting more comfortable with his pop leanings. Sadly, that didn’t go any further than Roden forming a kitschy follow-up band and almost landing a song with Belinda Carlisle. The lesson of Don’t Go Away might be that Primitons were more mainstream than any of the members could dare to admit. They really were (to quote my younger self from the compilation’s promotional notes) Earth’s strangest pop band. They just weren’t doing anything particularly strange.

Don’t Go Away: Collected Works
[Arena Rock]