PRIMAL SCREAM: A RETRO-PERSPECTIVE Inc. PALLADIUM GIG REVIEW
“I was blind. Now I can see. You made a believer – out of me!” Primal Scream
My very first discovery of Bobby Gillespie was when I, as a teenage idiot working in a dead-end office job, saw a video by the fuzz-bombing, guitar anarchists Jesus and Mary Chain on the telly for their spectacular single Never Understand. I recall thinking who the hell is that twig-skinny-black-mop-haired-bastard-with-sunglasses smashing hell out of a snare drum? He’s cooler than fuck! Plus, THAT band is phenomenal too! As punk rock was just out of my age range here was loud, noisy and tuneful rock and roll I could really get into. In fact, the 1980s gave birth to so many great independent-minded-guitar-based bands that I was in my element! While the “indie” scene eventually got assimilated into the mainstream a main flagbearer of these halcyon times continues with much creative passion and – based on the gig I went to last Friday – Bobby Gillespie is still as relevant and cool as ever. He’s rock and roll’s Dorian Gray who shows no sign of aging OR dying! Gillespie is one of the great frontmen and true a rock and roll immortal!
Primal Scream are one of my favourite bands of all time! I have literally grown up watching them from virtual birth and any release of theirs is welcomed with heart-stopping brain joy. After Gillespie left the Jesus and Mary Chain to front them they released a series of jangle-pop records and Peel Sessions in the 1980s, notably the wonderful It Happens and Velocity Girl. Subsequently they released their debut album Sonic Flower Groove to a lukewarm critical reception and were swiftly dropped by their major record label. I LOVED their first album. It was a heady mix of jangle guitars, power-pop riffs, flowery lyrics and dreamy vocals from Gillespie. Listening to it today I still recall the beauty of those chiming twelve-strings reverberating around my Roehampton bedroom as Bobby Gillespie’s Scottish falsetto sang melodies such as: Sonic Sister Love, Imperial, May the Sun Shine Bright for You and other classics.
Alas the album flopped but Bobby’s comrade and compatriot Alan McGee signed them to his own label Creation and the band set about, not for the first time, changing their sound and look, for their second album. McGee deserves praise for championing passionate-alternative-young-musicians-with-attitude with a desire to see the underdogs challenging the ruling classes. His ardour and eye for talent meant McGee would be rewarded with chart success with Primal Scream and a little known Manchester band called Oasis; who are now the Guinness World record holders for the most successful band of the 1990s.
Second album Primal Scream was a ballsy-Stooges-inspired rock-out full of dirty guitar riffs and basslines to match. Arguably, Gillespie was still looking for a musical identity and worked further through the rock and roll menu with their sophomore release. While it suffered mixed reviews I love it! It has some right royally rocking tracks including one of my favourite songs of theirs: the mercurial I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have. This song and Primal Scream’s fusion with the acid and rave culture of the early 1990s would shoot the band into the mainstream. Loaded was a bastardized version of I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have and with Andrew Weatherall’s ingenious production and quotes from Peter Fonda and sparse vocals from Gillespie, the band had a massive hit record. Furthermore the wonderfully titled Screamadelica would be a global hit and win them the Mercury award for that year.
Further hit singles from Screamdelica would follow, notably the sublime Movin’ on Up, Come Together and Higher the Sun. The album was a triumphant fusion of dance, electronica and rock and critical acclaim followed the commercial success. Personally, I’m not a fan of Loaded as it lacks the heart of the original song it’s taken from, but the track and subsequent album had summer and zeitgeist stamped all over it. Primal Scream were suddenly riding the crest of a wave and much was expected of their next album Give Out but Don’t Give Up!
When the single Rocks soared to number seven in the charts in 1994 the band once again had a hit. However, this slice of bluesy, Stones-influenced rock wasn’t welcomed by all music critics; some even stating the Scream had sold out their dance roots. This though is a fucking ridiculous idea because first and foremost they are a rock and roll band and secondly they’ve never followed trends. In fact, one of the major reasons I love this band so much is they do what the hell they want. I loved their third album and despite its mildly derivative underbelly, songs like Jailbird and the beautifully written I’m Gonna Cry Myself Blind are bona fide classics which still sound fresh today. Overall, Give Out but Don’t Give Up is a funky party album which doesn’t take itself too seriously and will lift even the most sullen of moods. Yet, the party mood was soon to shift as Primal Scream were about to move into much darker territory.
Vanishing Point was Primal Scream finally finding, amidst the postmodern machinations of their rock and roll brain, a signature sound. The record is drenched in amphetamine and smacked-up tunes and with the introduction of Mani from Mancunian legends Stone Roses, the speed-freak awesomeness of the album was one to behold. Gillespie stated it was an alternative soundtrack to the 1970s counter-cultural-narco-road movie of the same name and dub-punk tracks such as: Burning Wheel, Kowalski, Medication plus the trance melody of Star proved him right. It’s a cracking album which sounds both original and dunked in the blood of Lemmy; there’s even a song called Motorhead on the damn thing! Vanishing Point’s brutal, poetic, cinematic, dirty, thudding basslines, drum loops, guitars and lyrics make it one of their most complete and fresh sounding releases.
If Vanishing Point was a classic then their next album XTRMNTR is, in my view, their masterpiece. It takes the speed-ball from its predecessor and jams it into the brain with a burning syringe; and you’re left in no doubt this is a group at the top of their game. I think the band’s drug use and abuse is well documented and of course narcotic addiction will rip a hole in the soul of one’s humanity; however, the mixture of hedonism, anger, guts, passion and despair you get from being on drugs can give us great art such as this. Because instant classics such as Kill All Hippies, Accelerator, Shoot Speed/Kill Light and the majestic industrial disco epic Swastika Eyes proved that Primal Scream had written and produced one of the finest albums of all time. It’s angry, political, personal, dark and desperate, but also amidst the vampires and shadows there’s some incredible rock tunes in there and it remains for me their finest sixty minutes and twenty-four seconds.
After XTRMNTR the band toured the world. I caught them at a particularly blurry gig at the Hammersmith Palais, which was one of those nights I’ll never forget; mainly because I can’t remember too much about it. I recall dancing and falling over joyous and drunk on: life, music and chemicals. It was a stunning culmination for me of a band and die-hard fan coming together in perfect ecstasy. But how do you follow not one but TWO classic smashed-up tour-de-force albums?
I think in all honesty Primal Scream’s creative purple-patched hearts dipped in the next few years. Evil Heat from 2002 and Riot City Blues (2006) were punctuated by the royal remixed release of “Best of” album called Dirty Hits. Having said that any Primal Scream album is better than no albums at all and songs including: Autobahn 66 from Evil Heat and Country Girl, Hell’s A Comin’ Down and the touching Sometimes I Feel So Lonely demonstrated the band’s continued ability to write a cracking tune. But overall these two albums were inconsistent and unfocussed compared to the manic genius of their predecessors. Having said that Country Girl was another chart hit and it was great seeing the Scream in the charts, appealing to the globby masses again.
Released in 2008 Beautiful Future was a marked improvement in terms of songwriting consistency. The powerful pop electronica of the first seven tracks suggested a classic-in-the-making; however, the quality dips slightly toward the end. Nonetheless, it is a wonderful poppy soufflé drenched in pathos with grandstanding tracks including: Uptown, Zombie Man, Can’t Go Back and Beautiful Summer. In fact Beautiful Future is indeed a bright temporal glimpse forward as the band’s current album Chaosmosis is an even sharper sonic pop album and brimming with startling positivity in songs like: Tripping on your Love and the exquisite When the Light Comes In.
Sandwiched in between these two albums is the experimental, jazzy offerings of More Light, which found Bobby Gillespie clean and sober for the first time forever. He opined when the album was released:
“We are trying to create transcendent, euphoric, ecstatic experiences. That’s always going to be part of our aesthetic. We like making druggy-sounding psychedelic music. It’s just that since we stopped taking drugs we got better at it.” Bobby Gillespie (2013)
Unlike the delectably titled Chaosmosis – which isn’t chaotic sounding at all – More Light is the blended process of Primal Scream shedding their rock and roll skin once again. The scales that scatter in the wind find the music all over the shop; psychedelic 2013 and bluesy-pop of Its Alright, I’m OK meld with punk bursts of Culturecide and Hit Void, and the moody ballad Walking with the Beast. What the album lacks in discipline it makes up with some cracking songs and a mass collection of musical personnel producing an artistically satisfying smorgasbord spikily overseen by uber-producer David Holmes.
To celebrate the release of the sparky power-pop classic Chaosmosis, the Scream booked themselves into the London Palladium for one night only. I was surprised by their choice of venue as the Palladium is historically a home for Royalty, middle-of-the-road entertainment and the bourgeoisie. Plus, it was April Fool’s Day so I wondered if perhaps it was some grand prank and the gig would be prove a sham. It was anything but as Bobby Gillespie and his crew of old stalwarts such as keyboardist Martin Duffy and Andrew Innes on guitar were ably backed up by young bassist Simone Butler and Hannah Marsden on support vocals. When you have almost thirty years of material to choose from then karmic chameleons such as the Scream are a banker to deliver the rock and roll goods. Every song was beautifully rendered as crisp light and video show melded pristinely with the soaring choir in the shadows; all the while sonic brother Gillespie begging the crowd to come together toward the light.
Movin’ On Up was an incredible opener and the hits just poured out from the stage and my personal favourites were Tripping’ On Your Love, Shoot Speed/Kill Light, Rocks, Swastika Eyes, Kill All Hippies and the rarely heard original Come Together replete with acid-dance remix of course. The whole night was a cascade of nostalgia and cracking showmanship and I felt at one with the world and a group of musicians who are part of my psyche and who I consider, culturally speaking, part of the family. I was blind. I can see. Primal Scream made a believer out of me. We’re MOVING ON UP!!
Dedicated to the memory of Robert Young (1965 – 2014)