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Album Review: Primal Scream - Screamadelica (Creation)

Twenty years on, our original album review revisited

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BURBLE BURBLE Burble, is the soundtrack that soaks in from all around him. Fizzing, shiny details go tracking past, from left to right, before they turn and fly backwards again – cutting lovely figure-of-eight shapes about his head. Tiny lights twinkle and futuristic birds make too-wit noises and then the entire picture starts to pulsate weirdly. A crazy, cosmic jive.

The starman surveys all of this and sucks hard on his life-support gear. A hundred thousand miles from home and strung-out a long way from the capsule, the starman is beyond the stage of rational thought – he’s just thrilled he can hang gloriously loose and take all of this in. His last groovy communication with Ground Control reported that “Planet earth is blue, and there’s nothing I can do.”

Sensation-wise, Primal Scream have boldly headed into the zone that was so famously explored by Bowie in his Major Tom saga – the starman junkie who took the final great spacewalk and was overcome by it all – finding his bliss, his satori, in the bigness of his surrounding and the throbbing music of the spheres. In ‘Screamadelica’, we find that Major Tom is still up there, 22 years older but once more sending out inspired, gurgling reports.

‘Screamadelica’ is one of this era’s most beautiful, far reaching pieces of musical adventure; a dreamy, occasionally spooked vision of life on the pop frontier, sustained by club culture and brain-wacky chemicals and many kinds of spirit-rousing music. Space travel is an obvious metaphor to portray these consciousness-bending influences. But Primal Scream have handled the idea coolly and exceptionally, preparing the way for us with this summer’s most gigantic single, ‘Higher Than the Sun’.

The track returns as the central experience in ‘Screamadelica’, first in its Orb-produced, burbling from a third of the way through the record and then reappearing near the close like some kind of flaming comet’s tail – this time tagged as ‘A Dub Symphony in Two Parts’, as Jah Wobble joins in and it all zooms off into a stereo-panning, senses-vibrating, full-glorious overdrive.

Brian Wilson, another musician who was handy at detailing the hyper-sensuous side of life, used to sit up through the night eating Desbutol pills, watching the stars and thinking up “a teenage symphony to God”. His presence is writ and largely over ‘Screamadelica’, most obviously on ‘Inner Flight’, which is a mighty evocation of The Beach Boys‘Pet Sounds’ era – all yearning choirs and waves of reverb and peculiar combinations of instruments, stacked to the heavens on pretty chord sequences.

That Primal Scream (and Andy Watherall, normally a king mixer, but now producing like a wild man) have come so near to realising the sound of this old music is one king of achievement, but better still is the notion that they’ve got so close to the soulful ambitions of eth original, the ‘feels’ that Brian Wilson used to talk about as the basis of his music. If you want to hear Bobby Gillespie and The Scream at their lightweight, pastichey worst, then listen back to 1987’s ‘Sonic Flower Groove’ for a horrible glut of self-conscious, retro moves. But ‘Inner Flight’ is way more valid, more creative and childlike than any of this.

Which is welcome news for anyone who’s gotten cheesed off in the past two years by all those crap imitators – the wee boys who’ve been happy just to steel off’Fool’s Gold’, ‘Loaded’ or whatever’s been the menu that week. Unlike them, Bobby’s always been ready to make an unguessed-at change, to take a flier just when his last move was being assimilated by the copy cats. When he came out with ‘Loaded’, Bobby was slagged by the likes of 808 state records, who reckoned he was “betraying his indie past, and LFO who snorted that the band was actually “guitar orientated”. Now the irony comes full circle in the recent news that the ravey converts weren’t all thrilled by the Stones-like ballads that were being introduced on to the Primals’ ’91 agenda.

From the latter bag you have ‘Movin’ On Up’ and ‘Damaged’, both produced by Jimmy Miller (‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’, ‘Honky Tonk Women’, ‘Excile On Main St’), the two of them loosely played out on acoustic guitars and pianos while Bobby comes on all camp and pouty and vulnerable – like the Stones staggering gamely out of the left rubble on the ‘60s on ‘Let It Bleed’.

‘Downside’ catches the downside of the lost-in-space experience (just as the album cover is a smiley sun gone fried and neurotic), a lonely place where relationships fall apart and the come-together vibe doesn’t always seem so convincing. In contrast, ‘Movin’ On Up’ which opens ‘Screamadelica’, has pace and purpose – you think of brethren twatting tambourines, praising the Godhead and passing the collection plate.

The point is that Bobby hasn’t just picked up on the drugs and dancey trip and concluded that everything is unquestionably brill. Things are too complicated now for something as innocent and optimistic as The Beloved’sHappiness’, and Bobby still ahs the suss not to settle for the hello-fluffy-clouds zone that PM Dawn have made their own. ‘Screamadelica’ has the gift of perspective in that it covers a time-span of three years and it documents the progress of the rave pilgrims from many angles; from the excited trumpetings of ‘Loaded’ and ‘Come Together’ to the spacey crest of ‘Higher Than The Sun’, then trailing off with ‘Damaged’ and ‘I’m Comin’ Down’.

The latter is a bloodshot, six am vision of the starman finally touching base. Bobby sounds like Jim Reid in his bombed-out-candy-chomping phase while a saxophone blows forlornly in a ‘Walk On The Winds Side’ kind of a way. ‘Shine Like Stars’ finishes the LP, all breathy and wonderstruck as the ocean waves break and Bobby muses on the particular glory of it all.

In brief, ‘Screamadelica’ is the record that Bobbie Gillespie always talked like he could make. Playful and extreme, sexy and sensuous, it is wise in the ways of rock lore and happy to snuggle close to the cutting edge of club culture. Detractors will point to the fact that all the post-‘Loaded’ singles are on here (a moot point maybe, since only five of the tracks are brand new), but the music sounds so exceptional, so elevated, that you can’t feel disappointed for long.

‘Screamadelica’ will be recognised as a benchmark for these times and all the weeboys and copycats will tremble in their pants. Ground Control to Major Bob, you’ve really made the grade.


Stuart Bailie

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