published: 10 /
In the latest in our Favourite Album series, in which a writer writes about a favourite album of his or her choice, Lisa Mundy examines Primal Scream's eponymous and much under-rated album from 1989
Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a bizarre choice. Even my diehard Primal Scream-loving friends looked at me as if I’d gone insane when I told them. But I like a challenge, and if I can convince just one disbeliever of this LP’s importance, then my work here will be done.
Primal Scream was first released in September 1989 to a less-than-receptive audience. Hardcore Scream fans, mainly the fanzine-writing anorak brigade, liked them on the strength of their debut 'Sonic Flower Groove', 1987’s paean to Love, the Byrds and all things twee. And the kids and critics alike loved the already-seminal 1 minute 20 second piece of pop genius that heralded the start of the C86 (non)revolution, 'Velocity Girl'.
The UK indie scene was a fairly bleak affair in 1989. Most
‘alternative’ people were goths; the music press were also slaves to the cult of Robert Smith. The only other option was good old schmindie: Labels such as Sarah, Creation and 4AD ruled the roost, but they were fairly joyless affairs. Having fun simply wasn’t part of the equation.
'Sonic Flower Groove' was a legendarily difficult LP to record. Gillespie’s vocals were so weak that they had to be taped a line at a time, and the musicians were by no means accomplished. Hence — a bunch of lame, fingerpicked ballads.
But the minute the Scream learned to play their instruments, they realised that they wanted to do something a bit more rock ‘n’ roll. And who can blame them?
Outside the indie world there were new things stirring: hip-hop, acid house and a new drug called Ecstasy. All the good things from the ‘60s – soul, psych, freakbeat and the ubiquitous Velvet Underground were being updated by seminal bands like My Bloody Valentine and Spacemen 3. So why shouldn’t there have been a band that wanted to be The Faces, Thin Lizzy or the MC5?
So the Scream released a 10-track, 30 minute long LP, which marked an end to their dark days of twee forever. Bobby Gillespie, previously the floppy-haired, angel-faced drummer for the Mary Chain, had grown his hair shoulder-length and was wearing tight leather trousers and winklepickers. Andrew Innes was dressed in a purple kaftan and love beads. Robert ‘Throb’ Young was posing with a fag in his mouth like Slash and a packet to rival Percy Plant. Yes, they were a gang. Yes, they were on better drugs than you. Yes, they were gonna get loaded and have a good time.
But this simply wasn’t done in Indieworld 1989. Thirteen years on, it seems impossible to imagine a mainstream indie band who haven’t boasted about their coke problem or flashed the two’s at the paparazzi. In fact, it’s almost a relief when a band tells the NME they don’t do drugs. The Scream invented ‘Mad for it’ five years before the Gallagher apes first opened their mouths. And they did it with this LP.
Not that anyone cared at the time. Even Alan McGee, arguably their biggest fan, says "Primal Scream were a fucking joke".
They got so little publicity in the mainstream music press that Innes asked their press officer : "Can’t you even get us in the guitar papers? " A huge tour of the UK was met with an underwhelming response; long hair, posturing and a love of pre-punk 1970s was hated by pretty much everyone.
So why should you listen to this LP? The first and most obvious reason is the centrepiece, 'I’m Losing More than I’ll Ever Have', aka The Song That Became Loaded. Joyous, uplifting, and easily as good as the remix, I’d still rate this track as one of the Scream’s Top 5 tunes. The critics say Bobby can’t sing, but the vocals on this song make a mockery of their cynicism. You don’t need a breakbeat nicked from an Edie Brickell remix and a tacky Peter Fonda sample to make dance music.
You probably know that the Scream met Andy Weatherall at a rave near Brighton. But you may not know the reason he agreed to mix ‘Loaded’ is because he had been given a copy of Primal Scream to review for the Junior Boys Own magazine. Although the review wasn’t that great, he was blown away by the LP’s ballads, and when Innes approached him with the idea to create his first ever remix he readily agreed. The rest is well-documented history.
The titles of the ballads speak for themselves. ‘You’re Just Dead Skin To Me’ and ‘You’re Just Too Dark To Care’; these are written by someone who has lived on the edge and is lucky to be back in one piece. The slide guitar, wailing harmonica and spiritual air are obvious predecessors to the post-'Screamadelica' jaunt to Memphis; these tracks are easily as beautiful as anything on ‘Give Out But Don't Give |Up’ but, as Bobby sings, ‘No one can help you when you’re this far down’.
That’s not to say that the contentious rock numbers are bad in the least. Primal Scream will be writing songs about Original Sin' and Getting Your Rocks off until the day they die, and ‘Ivy Ivy Ivy’ and ‘She Power’ are great rock n roll songs in the vein of ‘Rocks’, ‘Jailbird’ and ‘Medication’. Wanting to be the MC5 is de rigeur these days, but the Scream were covering ‘Ramblin’ Rose’ live during this period. Although ‘Gimme Gimme Teenage Head’ owes a rather obvious debt to ‘Kick Out the Jams’, it ripped it off a long time before everyone else did.
‘Kill the King’ sounds like the backing track was stolen from ‘Isn’t Anything’, My Bloody Valentine’s ground-breaking masterpiece from the previous year. If you listen to new Scream track ‘Deep Hit of the Morning Sun’ it isn’t dissimilar in intent, given how much technology has moved on.
The album's closer, ‘Jesus Can’t Save Me’ has the very essence of the X factor that has kept Primal Scream ahead of the pack for nearly 15 years. Very, very similar in tone to 'Space Blues 2', Duffy’s lovely closer to the Scream's new album 'Evil Heat', it’s a classic redemption ballad in the style of Dennis Wilson, Alex Chilton and all the other great heart breakers beloved of the band.
‘Jesus’, the b-side to 1997’s ‘Star’, is a lush re-working of ‘I’ll Be There for You’, the closing track from ‘Give Out…’, and the band have said that’s how they envisaged the whole LP to sound before the skag turned the whole experience a bit sour. You imagine this is how they would have made the ballads from Primal Scream sound ten years down the line as well. This time inexperience rather than hard drugs was probably what stopped them.
Primal Scream know how to rock, have introduced dance music to an entire generation of indie kids, produced one of the Last Great Rock Icons in the form of Gillespie, one of the Last Great Rock Outlaw Gangs in the form of the whole band and still managed to create heartbreakingly fragile ballads time after time. That alone is reason enough to love this LP. Sure 'Screamadelica' is a pure rush of joy, 'Vanishing Point' sums up The Fear all too well and 'XTRMNTR' is a military industrial masterpiece, but you owe it to the Scream to remember where they’re from, not just where they’re at.
Have a Listen:-