Primal Scream - Screamadelica
It was by mistake that I discovered Screamadelica. I had some vouchers to spend, and, either because I’d heard Movin’ On Up or the album was adorned with a ‘Winner of the Mercury Prize’-type sticker (indeed it was the first winner of that now much discussed award), I thought I’d make a near blind purchase.
I have a theory that when most people talk of a favourite album they do so in the context of a watershed record that opened their eyes to something new, maybe a record that scrapped their previous musical tastes.
Screamadelica certainly qualifies as my favourite album on that account. Until then, my tastes were very much confined to strictly commercial pop and rock. After being initially puzzled by it, I was utterly blown away. I had never heard anything of such scope before - and have heard little to match it in ambition since.
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.
Screamadelica is without doubt a ‘drug’ album. Even the sleeve, a picture of a sun... with eyes... and huge pupils, gives this away. Varying between the extremes of euphoria and dreaminess, Screamadelica wants to junk all the bad stuff and party, wants to find beauty in life, love and social unity (albeit through glasses tinted by narcotics), and this it does incredibly well; in fact it wasn’t until The Polyphonic Spree’s debut album that I again heard such an unabashedly celebratory record. And between those two albums are a host of other artists and records seemingly influenced by Screamadelica; The Chemical Brothers’ Surrender and Spiritualized’s astonishing everything-but-the kitchen-sink opus Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space can be added to those already mentioned.
Screamadelica is an album that’s barely had a month’s holiday in more than ten year’s of being in my collection. It seems a shame that, in most people’s minds, Creation records will forever be linked to the discovery of Oasis rather than this mind-blowing masterpiece.