Birmingham, Alabama is a city with a conspicuously low cool factor as far as rock & roll is concerned, and if you have a hard time naming great alternative rock bands that hailed from the city, you're not alone. But the Primitons were the Yellowhammer State's greatest contribution to the smart pop sweepstakes of the 1980s, and a listen to the body of work the group created during their 1985-1990 heyday shows that's no dubious honor -- plenty of towns with livelier scenes would have been proud to claim a band this good as their own. Guitarist Mats Roden was clearly a student of the Southern school of jangle, but he put noticeably more muscle into his sound than his Georgia and Carolina peers without losing touch with the energetic, melodic grace of his melodies, and drummer Leif Bondarenko and bassist Brad Dorset (later replaced by Don Tinsley) drove the performances with a heady rush of power that never stomped so hard as to bruise the goods. And "Don't Go Away" ranks high in the pantheon of great jangle pop singles, blessed with a hook, a chorus, and a chiming guitar line that cohere into almost four minutes of pure bliss. Unfortunately, the Primitons had the poor fortune to record for Throbbing Lobster and What Goes On -- labels with great taste but little promotional firepower -- and the three records they issued between 1985 and 1987 have been out of print and all but forgotten for decades. Thankfully, Don't Go Away: Collected Works makes the Primitons' music available on CD for the first time, and leaves no doubt that they were woefully underrated in their time. The seven tunes from their debut EP and the three cuts from the "Don't Go Away" 12" are brilliant jangle pop (with a lovely detour into folk-rock on "City People"), while the material from their sole full-length album Happy All the Time shows more stylistic diversity, featuring a bit more guitar swagger and some keyboards to fill out the arrangements, but the results still sound revved-up, efficient and exciting. These 18 songs confirm the Primitons were one of the best acts playing guitar-based pop in the mid-'80s, and if it's stretching the truth a bit to call them a great lost band, Don't Go Away at least sets the record straight that they deserved a lot more acclaim than they earned in their lifetime, and fans of the smart, hooky stuff will eat this up.
Don't Go Away: Collected Works Review
by Mark Deming