“Absolutely not. We’re not that stupid. We couldn’t do it if we tried. When white people make dance records they just turn the snare up.”
NME’s Stuart Maconie had the answer he anticipated. He’d just asked whether Bobby Gillespie ever considered introducing that hoary old “dance element” to Primal Scream‘s music, and the response couldn’t have been more vehement. It was August 1989 and the eve of release of the ‘Scream’s second album. They’d just vamped up their sound from shambling indie to garage rock revivalist and, whatever Gillespie was digging at the time – he could see the real moves were being made in black dance music – he also knew his band’s limitations. Thank goodness he found a way to ignore them.
The catalyst was one of those classic rock numbers Primal Scream had recorded to edge away from their lily indie roots. ‘I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have’ was designed along Stonesy lines, a big rock ballad that shot for the anthemic gospel skies in its final couple of minutes. That coda was propelled by drawn-out brass and when Shoom DJ Andrew Weatherall was introduced to the band and asked to do something with the track, that was the part that grabbed his focus. Whacking a fat breakbeat underneath, bringing out shards of chunky riffage and that Peter Fonda sample, Weatherall used retro tools to sculpt something utterly “now”. It was called ‘Loaded’, “now” was March 1990 and we all wanted to have a good time. Quite what persuaded Gillespie to change his mind is obscure – chances are he felt that handing the song over to someone else absolved him of worry that his white band was attempting black music, but the pragmatist in him (and Creation label boss Alan McGee) could surely see what was happening all around. Acid house had broadened the audience for dance music, guitar kids on pills were finally finding a way to free themselves from the shackles of cool detachment and, as Gillespie already understood, indie in its winsome forms was moribund. Happy Mondays had blinked first. They were never indie in the no-eye-contact, mumbling sense, but their shambolic funk had been tightened up by Vince Clarke on the genuinely seminal ‘W.F.L.’, and The Stone Roses had of course reshaped the possibilities of a white band playing dance music straight, Reni matching James Brown’s ‘Funky Drummer’ breakbeat to startling effect on Autumn 1989′s ‘Fools Gold’. Floodgates were open.
Primal Scream’s transition wasn’t entirely comfortable – witness Gillespie looking like he still wanted to sing ‘Ivy, Ivy, Ivy’ on Top Of The Pops – but by the summer’s ‘Come Together’ he had a raver’s mop-top and his ever-flimsy croon was fronting a flower power dance mantra with an astonishing, trancey Weatherall mix on the flipside. Excitement was mounting. Still, it would be another year before Primal Scream introduced another hue to their new palette, the trippy dub of The Orb-produced ‘Higher Than The Sun’, and then the Denise Johnson-fronted whistling rave of ‘Don’t Fight It, Feel It’, a record that prompted Radio 1 afternoon DJ Steve Wright to wonder what the fuss was all about. You just didn’t get it, daddio. Mind you, 18 months after ‘Loaded’, the rest of us were wondering if we were ever going to get it either.
Screamadelica finally surfaced at the end of September 1991. This far down the line, we were on – what? – the sixth summer of love? And the fifth had been sustained by The Soup Dragons. Rather than representing the peak of a movement, Screamadelica was more of a summary, fusing acid, dub, classic 70s rock and even baggy (there in the soft-wallabee-shuffle of 13th Floor Elevators cover ‘Slip Inside This House’), and triumphing with every switch. The pop cultural sands were shifting – Blue Lines had already been released, Nevermind (imagine this) emerged the same week as Screamadelica, and Blur and Suede were months away from reclaiming a peculiar Englishness – but Primal Scream had just enough time and plenty enough quality to put down a marker. Twenty years on, it’s entirely natural Screamadelica should be celebrated as a paragon of its genre of flux, and this magnificent edition does it justice.
From the impeccable, Stones-aping (and Jimmy Miller-produced) ‘Movin’ On Up’ to the twinkling comedown of ‘Shine Like Stars’, this remaster brings extra clarity to a record that thrives on pointing out the differences, yet lets them all hang together. What’s gratifying is nothing has dated: country-rock pastiche ‘Damaged’ is never likely to by this stage, but ‘Loaded’’s low-slung groove and ‘Come Together’’s 10-minute rave-up ought to be ‘of a time’, and the two versions of ‘Higher Than The Sun’ along with the sax-garlanded ‘I’m Comin’ Down’ have no right to appeal to anyone who’s not convalescing from a particularly harsh, E-fuelled tear-up somewhere off the M25 in 1992. Credit for longevity should go to the songwriting chops of Gillespie, Andrew Innes and Robert Young, often overlooked when praise is strewn about the – admittedly brilliant – Boy’s Own team of Weatherall, Terry Farley and Hugo Nicolson; neither faction could have hit these heights without the other. Screamadelica is serendipity in stereo.
And the aftermath? Included in the regular 20th anniversary edition is 1992’s Dixie-Narco EP, led by ‘Movin’ On Up’ but worth it for Screamadelica’s tardy title track, another 10 minutes of beautiful glitterball magic, and two slices of convincing Southern-fried rock-soul in ‘Carry Me Home’ and ‘Stone My Soul’. For many, Primal Scream would pick up the wrong thread with 1994’s Give Out But Don’t Give Up, an uneasy mix of gonzo rock and lumpen funk, and wouldn’t find sharp focus again until XTRMNTR in 2000, where they jettisoned any vestiges of feel-good dance-rock for blistering, thrilling, all-out assault. They’ve never quite seemed vital again. Screamadelica’s own legacy is tricky to pinpoint: One Dove were too late with their ‘next Screamadelica’, 1993’s Morning Dove White, an album that only served to highlight their own dearth of strong material, and The Stone Roses missed the chance to find a groove between ‘Fools Gold’, ‘Something’s Burning’, and ‘Begging You’. In the last two decades, perhaps only New York punk-funkers The Rapture and LCD Soundsystem have really come close to matching Primal Scream’s one-shot melting pot of dance and rock.
It’s a pity you have to shell out £90-odd to get the other two discs in this reissue – perhaps there could’ve been a mid-price that ditched the slipmat, t-shirt and perfect-bound book – because they’re essential documents too. One disc collates the remixes, including the splendid 8-minute Farley mix of ‘Come Together’ and a typically in-yer-face version of ‘Don’t Fight It, Feel It’ by Graham Massey, as well as chucking in ‘I’ll Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have’ for comparison. Over 14 tracks, it underlines the value of collaboration to Screamadelica’s inception. Then the final disc is a recording of a 1992 show at LA’s Hollywood Palladium, that shows Gillespie and crew’s fierce dedication to reproducing such a slippery record in a live setting. Standouts are a wah-wah-bolstered ‘Don’t Fight It, Feel It’ – a version only previously available on an early-90s Select Magazine giveaway – sympathetic blasts through The Stooges’ ‘No Fun’ and Plastic Ono Band’s ‘Cold Turkey’, and a bewildering run-through of ‘Higher Than The Sun’ that wallops the anything-goes ethos, leaving Orb-ish ambience behind for Gillespie to yelp through Sly & The Family Stone’s ‘Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey’, Led Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and The Ronettes’ (or more accurately The Ramones’) ‘Baby I Love You’. If this is supposed to show versatility it’s outshone by ‘Damaged’, where the “stone in love with you” chant is recast as The Stylistics pop-soul the line was surely swiped from. For a few seconds we’re back where we were never supposed to be: with a white band playing black dance music. Not a snare to be heard.