Sans a member for the evening I thought I’d take advantage, flagrantly disregard the rules concerned how long albums can be, and play this 63-minute mess/magnum opus/masterpiece [delete as appropriate] by
Sabres Of Paradise Primal Scream, which I thought would be good for causing an argument stimulating discussion.
Primal Scream aren’t a band. They’re a shocking shambles. Quite literally for the last 23 years they seem to be whoever is in the studio with Bobby Gillespie and Andrew Innes on any given day. Their best records (this, Vanishing Point, XTRMNTR) are, by and large, surrounded by absolute tripe. I’ve been a fan for the best part of 20 years but for most of the last decade of that I’ve had zero faith in their ability to make a decent record. I still think that Primal Scream, as a phrase, in terms of how it sounds and what it means and the imagery it inspires, is pretty much the best band name ever. And Screamadelica is a great title for an album. And it has a great cover, too.
But it’s a mess; at times an absolutely brilliant mess, granted, but it’s still a mess. The Rolling Stones homages, even if they’re as platonic-essence-great as “Movin’ On Up” (which nicks from CAN as much as Jagger, to be fair) or as bruised and lonesome as “Damaged”, are still, of course, just reductive homages, and seem deranged next to the we-have-lift-off genius that is “Higher Than The Sun” or the amazing, swamp-house-voodoo-dub cover version of “Slip Inside This House”, that awesome sax solo at the end of “I’m Comin’ Down”, the bassline that sinews through “…A Dub Symphony In Two Parts”, the full-on joyous Italo-house of “Don’t Fight It, Feel It”…
But that’s Primal Scream. You have to take the good with the bad, the coke’d cockrock with the heroin blues with the inspired psychedelic-techno-pop-kraut-jazz-disco with the awful bloody country hoedowns. Do they mean it, man? Are they authentic? Trend-chasing? Easily-distracted? Is Bobby Gillespie a fan more than he is a musician? Does it matter? The key question is are they brilliant?, isn’t it? If you describe what they are, what they do, write it down on paper – a whirlwind trip through the entirety of counter-cultural music from The MC5 to Miles Davis to Giorgio Moroder and everywhere inbetween and beyond, on drugs – it sounds like the greatest idea for a rock’n’roll band ever. And, occasionally, just occasionally, they made music that matched that description. Screamadelica, for the most part, is one of those occasions. But even so, rock’n’roll bands are bloody silly creatures, and Primal Scream are the silliest of them all.
Tom Listened: I still remember quite clearly the moment I went off Screamadelica. I already owned the record and liked it well enough but was still getting to know it at the time. It wasn’t long after Primal Scream had released it and, back then, it was a BIG THING, about as big an event as the Indie Dance crossover genre thing managed to pull off. I recall the band performing Moving On Up on Top of The Pops and found myself…hating it. It suddenly occurred to me that, shorn of the music that surrounds it on the album, this was nothing more than a pale facsimile of prime era Rolling Stones. If I wanted Sticky Fingers I may as well listen to the real thing!
Listening at Nick’s the other night, it’s a pity I had such an epiphany as there is much to admire on Screamadelica and the album has laid dormant in my collection, neglected and unloved, pretty much since that day back in the early 90s. But the trouble with Screamadelica, as far as I am concerned, is two-fold. Problem 1: there is about equal amounts chaff and wheat. So for every Higher Than The Sun (astonishing) there is a Damaged, for every Don’t Fight It…there is a Shine Like Stars. Problem 2: the songs I like the most are almost exclusively the ones that sound like they have the least to do with Bobby Gillespie and the most to do with Andrew Weatherall. And that’s where the whole ‘authenticity and does it matter’ argument kicks off. So, to sum up, it was great to hear 5/11 of the album…the other 55% of the record I could live without!
Rob listened: Credit where credit’s due, this was a great talking point album. I don’t particularly object to ‘Screamadelica’ for any of the reasons around authenticity or authorship. There are potentially fascinating questions and can make for fascinating art, but ultimately the result is either good or bad. And I still find this one boring. Sure there are lovely sounds in there and some of them we hadn’t heard before, but I didn’t like it when my friends were telling me it was the future back in 1991 and it leaves me unmoved to this day. Perhaps underpinning my antipathy are some feelings to be associated with intent although as I’ve said, I hope not. I certainly love loads of bands and records which were sucked into the same orbit as this one, and I can’t explain why it seems to matter to me that the Happy Mondays were the real deal, or whether that genuinely affects how I hear this music. Okay, i’ll have one more go at communicating this… It’s a boring record. It doesn’t matter what new ground it may have broken. If Primal Scream were the Rolling Stones and the Stone Roses were the Beatles, well, you can take all four of them and piss off.