Screamadelica by Primal Scream

I don’t expect anyone out there to understand my fanaticism for Screamadelica, the 1991 album and third proper release by Primal Scream. It’s an album that’s been with me since its release, 20 years ago, and it’ll be with me another 20. The original CD was in my back pack when I moved from Canada to San Diego, and it sits comfortably, albeit a little scuffed, in my library as I write this. When I took it out the other day I was a little shocked to discover that I had saved the ticket stub for the Screamadelica tour I saw in ’92.

RPM Club, corner of Queen’s Quay & Jarvis Street, Toronto
Doors open at 8pm, legal drinking age 19
Tuesday February 18th, 1992
General Admission
$18.25

$18.25?

Seemed like a fortune back then. I was still rolling my own smokes and surviving on cheese toast at that time. The concert was amazing, as anyone who saw it will attest. The Scream has always been a fantastic live act, and remain vital (in concert, anyway) to this day. Bobbie Gilespie is one of the great front-men off all time, a rock and roll junkie with the heart, if not the lyrical ability, of some of the greats.

This band released two sub-par albums that they’ve pretty much tried to write out of their history. I will spare you the details, but suffice it to say that the first was a Byrdsy-jangle affair and the second was fairly lame garage/southern rock (something they would revisit again…and again, with mixed results).

After Screamadelica they released the Black Crowes-meet-Funkadelic rip off, Give Out But Don’t Give Up, which was panned after the massive critical success of the former. In hindsight it wasn’t THAT bad…

Then came the comeback: Vanishing Point (a great, dubby, psychedelic jazz blur of an album!), XTRMNTR (their electro-terrorist album, second only to Screamadelica in terms of overall quality) and the underrated terrorist electro of Evil Heat.

Then they decided it was time to update the Stones and the New York Dolls with the absolutely dreadful Riot City Blues. This album made Give Out…seem like pure genius by comparison.

When I saw the cover for the latest, Beautiful Future, I was pretty excited. The futuristic, Bladerunner inspired cover, in addition to the whisperings of a return to the sonic, fluid forms of Screamadelica by some in the know, got my juices flowing. Another comeback? If any band could do it it would be the ‘Scream!

Alas, it was pretty terrible, with a mere 3 songs out of the 11 which rank alongside their other classics. Although Primal Scream have released awful albums in the past, they have never released TWO awful albums in a row. This concerns me, but perhaps touring Screamadelica will inspire the old codgers once again find their muse.

The deluxe edition of Screamadelica should be arriving soon and I’m stoked. Kevin Shields, of My Bloody Valentine fame, is remixing it. It comes with the Dixie Narco EP, which contains the title track, Carry Me Home (a lost Dennis Wilson track), the single version of Movin’ On Up and Stone My Soul, which sounds just how you’d imagine it would sound.

The original album is still the draw, though. Here’s a track-by-track review:

Movin’ On Up works best as a false start. When ignorant people (you know, the ones who have only heard this track and Rocks) refer to Primal Scream as Rolling Stones clones, this is the sort of Scream track they mean. However, despite being derivative, this is fine, old-fashioned guitar pop with a gospel-backing. “I was blind, now I can see… you made a believer out of me,” Bobby Gillespie sings. It’s a song that’s open to interpretation. Could be about the optimism of a new relationship, or could be about the almost religious awe that often follows one’s first ecstasy experience… Ahem.

For me the album always begins properly with Slip Inside This House, although Bobby sings trip inside this house, his snarling vocals buried hazily in the mix. Contrasting deep bass with uplifting piano and psychedelic sitar, this is an astonishing curveball of a track.

If you suspected you were to start dancing, Don’t Fight It, Feel It confirms this with it’s spiralling drum patterns, (more) uplifting piano and Denise Johnson’s soulful voice. “Gonna dance to the music all night long,” she sings, then later, “gonna get high till the day I die.” If Screamadelica has a statement of intent, this is it. Granted, it’s not exactly profound, but no recording makes a better case for getting off your face and having one hell of a party.

Higher Than the Sun is gorgeously transcendental. Bobby’s blissful vocals, the lyrics (“Hallucinogens can open me or untie me, I’m drifting into space, free of time”) and The Orb’s otherworldly production makes this one of my favourite tracks of all time.

Inner Flight continues from there, a trippy instrumental (barring some breathy sighs), which you presume is supposed to be an audio depiction of drug-induced paradise.

Come Together is about the unifying properties of music. “We are together… gospel and rhythm and blues and jazz… all those are just labels… music is music,” declares Jesse Jackson, as the thumping drums kick in, then the organ, then the choir, then the brass. Make no mistake; this is a big, rousing track. It works, as does much of Screamadelica, because, although undoubtedly ‘dance’ music, it feels organic and unprocessed.

Loaded begins with a Peter Fonda sample. “We wanna be free to do what we wanna do… and we wanna get loaded… and we wanna have a good time.” This is the track that marked the turning point in Primal Scream’s career, from indie-guitar band to the (mainly) experimental force that has gone since. Andrew Weatherall, who produced most of the album (and, incidentally, Saint Etienne’s best single, Only Love Can Break Your Heart), took a simple ballad from the band’s previous album and turned it into something that evoked both the past and the future, something that would be every bit as influential as it was influenced. Loaded’s laid-back groove has been the template for many a track since: Fatboy Slim’s Praise You and David Holmes’ 69 Police spring immediately to mind.

Damaged is a lazy, summery ballad with a sweet lyric (“people may be precious, but they ain’t for keeping”), the other Stones’ style track on the album.

I’m Comin’ Down is as close to depicting the lows of drug-taking as the album gets. “I can’t face the dawn,” Bobby sings, but the tabla-style drums and free sax (perhaps the first indication of the band’s appreciation of jazz), make this a track to soothe rather than disturb. Of course, later in their career, on Vanishing Point and XTRMNTR, drug-induced self-loathing and paranoia would sound absolutely terrifying…

Beginning with the sound of deep inhalations, Higher Than the Sun (A Dub Symphony in Two Parts) is the album’s penultimate track, and continues the band’s interesting practice of reinventing a track that has appeared earlier in the album, or even on a previous album; fortunately never resulting in redundant material. The first part hangs ominously in the air, while the second is heavy with Jah Wobble’s bass. Add in the echo FX and you have something which anticipates the direction the band would take on Vanishing Point.

Shine Like Stars is the album’s poignant closer, seemingly a delicate love song, helped along by what can best be described as ‘tinkly noises’ and the sound of lapping waves. It’s a pure and wholly uncynical piece of music.

Like I said I don’t expect you to understand. You may, after reading, go out and purchase the album and think, “What the hell is E on about with this?” I think that if you’re not already a believer then you may want to stay away. But if you, like me, were hypnotized by Primal Scream back in 1991, then by all means scream at the top of your lungs, “WE JUST WANNA GET LOADED. WE JUST WANNA HAVE A GOOD TIME!!!”

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