In the latest installment of our Sacred Cows series, The Quietus’ John Doran revisits Primal Scream’s celebrated third album and argues that, though a good record, it could have been even better. He also reckons it’s not the Primals LP most worth re-releasing…
NME’s Sacred Cows column exists to take classic albums down a peg or two, sometimes by writers who are arguing from a position of heartfelt conviction. Mainly she or he will be acting as devil’s advocate or maybe even in some cases simply as the mischievous challoping bastard intent on hitting a hornets’ nest with a cricket bat and burning the internet down to its charred ribs.
Whatever the intention, this still depends on being able to summon up some kind of antipathy toward the long player in question. However, in this case I’m using this column to persuade you to buy, borrow or steal a copy of the new Screamadelica reissue if, up until now, you’ve only had a scratched CD or vinyl copy of the album or some shitty MP3 rips of the original 11 songs.
When Primal Scream first released ‘Loaded’ as a single in 1990, it formed a crossroads for thousands of people (myself being one of them), pointing the way from the blissed out and medicated indie rock of the late 1980s by the likes of Spacemen 3, My Bloody Valentine and Loop into the burgeoning realms of rave and ecstasy culture.
But by the time ‘Screamadelica’ was realeased nearly two years later, it’s hard to describe how ubiquitous not just this song but this entire sound had become due to the efforts of inferior imitating souls. The Soup Dragons (‘I’m Free’), The Farm (‘Groovy Train’) and even Blur (‘She’s So High’) had attempted to inflict the death of a thousand cuts on ‘Loaded’. Even though they only succeeded in making it seem slightly more mundane, pointing out perhaps the relative shuffling insubstantial nature of the Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians loop that underpinned it.
People forget that production and DJ legend Andrew Weatherall was completely fresh when he first constructed this song (mainly from parts of the Scream Team’s own sublime ‘I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have’ included on the reissue) and his growth and skill as a dance producer was to become exponential (the expansion of his knowledge of all kinds of rock and dance music shows little signs of slowing down even now some 20-years later).
After ‘Loaded’ had enjoyed a few weeks of chart success a white label started circulating among DJs that was to go on and tear discerning floors to fucking shreds. The mix completed the circle by combining ‘Loaded’ with ‘I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have’ (it was by Weatherall himself if memory serves) and was so righteous it could bring tears to the eyes. While that particular mix isn’t included on the lavish reissue of ‘Screamadelica’ the fantastic Terry Farley mix that has the same idea is.
This mix, I would argue, is more the spirit of both Primal Scream and the times, and represents 2am on the floor at the Hacienda covered in love and ecstasy rather than 3pm in the Union Bar of Hull University covered in cider and spittle. Which is surely something to be praised indeed.
To a certain degree ‘Come Together’ suffered from the same lag between the dancefloor ubiquity of the single and the release of the album. Not everyone will agree that the album version is inferior for sure but what was clear then is clear now: no one should be without both sides of the sun dappled 7” mix; the robust and acidic Hypnotone Brain Machine Mix or Terry Farley’s transcendent Extended Mix.
The biggest disconnect between the album and various 12”, 7” and white label mixes lies squarely with the botched delivery of Primal Scream’s early 1990s masterpiece ‘Higher Than The Sun’. Bobby Gillespie’s medicine cabinet warriors are – and always have been – two entirely separate bands.
The first is the tedious bunch of rule book owning conservatives who can’t help but lecturing you about the history of rock music like a middle aged sociology lecturer after three pints of bitter (the band who produced ‘Give Out But Don’t Give Up’ and ‘Sonic Flower Groove’). The second are a fearless band of futurists intent on reshaping modern music (‘Xtrmntr’ and ‘Echo Dek’). It is the latter who wrote the dub gospel acid house monument ‘Higher Than The Sun’ and the former who decided not to leave both parts back to back.
It always seemed like such a travesty that this work of stone cold genius was not left to play out for eternity instead of being chopped in two and truncated in favour of the inclusion of such dad rock, Rod Stewart knock offs as ‘Damaged’. Well, two decades later, it still hasn’t lost any of its lustre and while not lasting forever, the extra mixes boost it to a satisfying 40 minutes of saucer eyed indulgence.
But all of this is exactly as it should be. Every musical genre has a format that it exists most comfortably in, from prog rock in gatefold vinyl that can contain its lengthy noodling and demented artwork to R&B in MP3s that can easily be store on iPods and mobile phones. ‘Screamadelica’ was part rock album and part collection of club anthems, so there was always going to be a sense of disconnect between whether it would be most comfortable as an album or a treasured collection of 12”s. Now, I guess, no one needs to choose between one or the other any more.
What’s this? A cricket bat? And what’s that over there? A hornets’ nest? Well, if I must… So when are we going to get the reissue of ‘XTRMNTR’ then which is clearly by far and away Primal Scream’s best album, towering over ‘Screamadelica’ (and almost every other album of that period)? Time to hear some truly revolutionary (in all senses of the word) remixes…