AOTW: Screamadelica

I’d been planning an AOTW to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Primal Scream’s Screamadelica this year. The BBC have just given it the Classic Albums treatment, so I thought I’d post something now, and encourage anyone with a vague interest to watch it on iPlayer as soon as possible.

Not many albums are perfect. This one is – from the title and the cover artwork, to the sequencing (I’ll come back to the sequencing), to the way it both captures the spirit of the times and still sounds fresh as anything.

How did it happen? Late ’80s Primal Scream were a deeply unfashionable bunch of leather-clad punk rockers. But they had an unlikely fan in the shape of a young acid house DJ called Andy Weatherall. He’d never been in a recording studio before, but the band invited him to remix a song off their previous album, called I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have. The brief: “fucking destroy it.”

He did. And created an instant classic. Not much of the original remains – the bass, a piano loop, some horns brought to the forefront. In place of Bobby Gillespie’s vocal, there’s a sample from a Peter Fonda film: “We wanna be free to do what we wanna do. And we wanna get loaded. And we wanna have a good time.”

It’s fair to say those words struck a chord with a few hundred thousand young people in 1990. And at this point, we should mention Ecstasy. Because this is an E album through and through, and such a coming together of musical worlds simply wouldn’t have happened without it. (This helps explain why, aged 13, I didn’t really get the dancey parts of Screamadelica. I do now.)

You could argue – in fact, it would be hard not to – that the album follows the trajectory of an Ecstasy trip. It doesn’t hurt that it kicks off with “Movin’ On Up”, a perfect gospel pastiche and surely one of the great album openers. Things carry on coming up nicely with an interpretation of The 13th Floor Elevators’ “Slip Inside This House” and dancefloor magnet “Don’t Fight It, Feel It” (“What’s this crap?”, I remember thinking at the time). Then we’re onto a blissed-out trip with The Orb’s mix of “Higher Than The Sun” (drug songs don’t come much more blatant, or better) and the instrumental “Inner Flight”, before the full on hug-a-stranger euphoria of “Come Together” and “Loaded”.

That high can’t possibly last – but the comedown is exquisite. First we get the gorgeously sad (and under-rated) “Damaged” – produced by Rolling Stones producer Jimmy Miller and, frankly, the best Stones ballad ever. That’s followed by the self-explanatory “I’m Comin’ Down”, with its freeform sax and closing Paris, Texas sample, and the woozy return of “Higher Than The Sun” as a “dub symphony” with Jah Wobble on bass. When closing track “Shine Like Stars” shimmers in, it feels like you’ve drifted off to heaven.

The funny thing is, I wouldn’t particularly call myself a Primal Scream fan. I’ve not paid much attention to their subsequent albums – I like a lot of what I’ve heard, but can’t fully shake the (possibly unfair) suspicion that they’re actually a bunch of derivative chancers who somehow struck lucky. I suspect Andy Weatherall is the true visionary here, but I don’t own anything else he’s done either – I’m still not really a fan of “dance” music.

However it came about, Screamadelica is a masterpiece. Unquestionably a 10 out of 10. I’m sure everyone here agrees …

… don’t you?

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27 thoughts on “AOTW: Screamadelica

  1. Barbryn
    Some of the tracks didn’t upload correctly or something.

    What I could listen to was magnificent and I can’t wait to listen to the whole album.

    • Anonymous (?) – looks like I switched off my computer before the longer tracks finished uploading. They’re on their way into cyberspace now, so please check back – they’re magnificent too.

  2. I’d definitely give “Loaded” and “Higher Than the Sun” 10/10, does anyone else remember how the guitar chord is SOOOO loud on Loaded when you’re on the dancefloor, it’s like waiting for lightning to strike?

    Have never fully embraced the whole album, but I’m really pleased about all the fuss everyone has made about it and the documentary is well worth watching.

    Did you catch the BBC music from 1991 compilation?

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b010w8t0/Movin_on_Up_Pop_Hits_from_1991/

    I had to get up and dance when the Shamen came on, but quite a lot of it is not as good in retrospect! Excellent choice for AOTW.

    • Yeah, I enjoyed the 1991 programme – I’ve blogged about this before, but that was my Year Zero for music, and what a year. Some of it may not have aged well, but the nostalgia factor meant I even loved hearing things like Oceanic that I didn’t like much at the time. KLF were particularly hilarious – I don’t think I really got the joke until they did “Justified and Ancient” with Tammy Wynette – not quite sure how I missed it…

      • I didn’t remember KLF having such an well rehearsed dance routine! To be fair to some of the bands I don’t think they showed their best performances.

        I dipped a toe in indie, but I was up to my neck in goth in 1991, so although I saw quite a few of those bands live, I don’t own many of their records.

        It was a curious time though, a drug revolution really.

  3. I watched both the Screamadelica doc (hasn’t Bobby G aged well, bearing in mind his, erm, lifestyle?!) and the 1991 compilation show. Enjoyed the latter until about halfway through when I started having to fast-forward through the likes of Ned’s Atomic Dustbin…

    Great choice for AOTW, barbryn. I wasn’t too young to get the drugs references – just too square! Still more of a fan of the ‘proper songs’ on the album than the blissed-out dubby tracks, but can appreciate the album’s classic-ness!

    • I wasn’t too young to get the drugs references – just too square!

      Being too young for Acid House is one of my great regrets – except that, if I’m honest, I’d have been too straight-laced to really be part of it. My own pilling experiences are probably in single figures, mostly revolving around drum’n’bass nights in a mediocre club in Canterbury. Still some of the best nights of my life though…

    • Bish – the too square description fitted me, too (actually, it still does). I was certainly old enough – but possibly too skint – because I was a student in Brighton at the time. A very square student who was mostly terrified of drugs and who didn’t like the taste of alcohol.

      So I spent what money I did have on records.

      • I was a student in Durham. Fairly sure ecstasy didn’t make it there – at least not into the student population! Have had the odd pill since and have to say it’s never done much for me. Perhaps I’ve just never had a good-quality one.

      • Brighton’s a little raver at night. I just ignored that side of it.

        I was shocked when my roommate directed some crusties to “the squat”, and the nearest I got to drugs was when I was offered some cannabis in a spliff by the same roommate. “Has it got tobbacco in it?” “Yes.” “No, thank you.”

        I applied to Durham, too – fairly sure they offered me a place – I think I rejected it because I didn’t like their halls breakfast (they invited me to stay overnight when I went for my interview, which was nice). Oh, fickle teen!

        Near miss, Bish!

  4. At the time this was most definitely NOT my style, and the only Es I’ve ever been near in my life (before or since) were food additives, but somehow the single version of Loaded found its way onto my record deck for quite a lot of that summer.

    Fantastic review there, barbryn, and I promise I will give it a listen all the way through, though it may well have to wait until tomorrow.

  5. This is a record whose charms I have come to appreciate more as I have aged – although it has to be said that, much like Bishbosh, I still prefer the ‘proper’ songs.

    I think I bought the album two or three years ago – it was in a 2fer cardboard package with Give Out But Don’t Don’t Give Up, their rockier follow up album.

    “Loaded” pretty much soundtracked that year – plenty of other people owned it, on single or album, and I recall it being played on the radio and in the clubs and probably on campus too. And “Rocks” seemed to follow it. I liked “Rocks”; I was actually quite surprised that that wasn’t on the “seminal” Screamadelica (it’s on Give Out…).

    Great write-up, Barbryn – you’re making me want to dig the CD out … (probably both of ‘em).

    • Interestingly, the image on the disc of Give Out But Don’t Don’t Give Up includes a smaller version of the Screamadelica blob.

      Is that what it is? A blob? It always put me in mind of some sort of protozoa or something.

      Anyway, I can’t vouch for any the rest of the Give Out… packaging, because my ultra-budget package is kinda minimal.

  6. It is a great album, one that always reminds me of what I was doing back when it was a fixture in my CD player.

    I still play it regularly. A genuine classic.

    Loaded is the high spot for me.

  7. Although Madchester was the centre of the scene, I didn’t get into it particularly, being a little too old. I knew people who went to the Hac and my son has ended up being an acquaintance of Mani but the social scene eluded me. However I did quite like some of the music. I prefer Vanishing Point to Screamadelica, as you don’t need the drug references or an ‘E’ to enjoy it. I watched and enjoyed most of the Classic Albums prog: no-one seemed to come across as a complete div (as we say in these parts).

    • Blimey!

      Do I get any extra cred points then for owning Edie’s Shooting Rubberbands At The Stars album since release?
      8)

      Or if I do, did I lose them again for buying her subsequent three albums also on release?!
      :{

      • I bought Shooting Rubber Bands… fairly promptly, but only one of the subsequent albums (more or less on release – it was harder to tell back then, what with no Internet an’ all).

        I liked the one about the red dog in the pickup truck but most of the rest of the second LP fell by the wayside and I kind of lost interest after that, I must confess. What were the other two like, DsD?

      • Ghost Of A Dog was Rubberbands hit by the law of diminishing returns.
        I like Picture Perfect Morning, but most don’t. Quality-wise, it is very up and down, but does contain my Edie B-lister and one of very few EB songs that’s made the cut onto my Walkman: the wonderfully laid-back Good Times, with Barry The Love Walrus on guest vocal.

        I also like Volcano (I’m not being much help here in terms of pointing you at anything specific, am I?), particularly as there was a little more rock-god guitar to the fore throughout the album: may appeal to the AAE fan in you. I can ‘Box it if you like.

        I can’t remember the last time I listened to 2006’s Stranger Things, and may now rectify that as the soundtrack to my office afternoon.

  8. nice post Barbryn, ’tis indeed a classic.

    I came back to this album about a year and a half ago when I transferred a load of old CD’s onto my iTunes and now it gets a regular listen.

    Now, to track down the doc. before it’s too late!

  9. Bought the vinyl singles of Loaded and Come Together when they came out and also bought the CD of Screamadelica, but never got on on with it for some reason – possibly to do with not being an E-taker or particularly enjoying that music scene. However, always wanted to go back and get it to give it another go – hopefully with hindsight i’ll like it a bit more. Despite this, i’m pleased its achieved classic album status and i quite like Primal Scream – although i always wanted to like them more than i actually do (if you know what i mean?).

  10. Late to the party, but that was all new to me and just great. Funny that you mention the Stones, my first thought about Movin’ on Up was that it would slot right into Exile. And Damaged was just gorgeous – of course i wouldn’t say it’s the best Stones ballad ever, but it would fit right onto Sticky Fingers, or be the standout on one of their much later albums, some of which managed to cough up a decent ballad if not much else.

    I was a bit lost on the second and third songs, but i loved it from there on through the end. Don’t know much about the samples, but i heard reminders of everything from the Beatles, Pink Floyd, the Verve, and George Michael. Just wonderful, so thanks.

    As to the E thing, i was a bit too old, and that was a good thing i think, because earlier on i wasn’t too square. I didn’t do E, but some pre-E stuff called MDA (E is MDMA). For some reason i was drinking coke in a bar one night and a friend dumped a vial of it in my drink (with my knowledge). That was enough of that for me, and i luckily lost interest in drugs just before E and crack let alone the designer club drugs. But i did do my fair share of acid, so relating the album sequence to that wasn’t too much of a stretch.

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