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Primal Scream

With one foot in the indie-dance scene and one in the alt-rock/Brit-pop mainstream, PRIMAL SCREAM broke down the barriers between the genres, although much in the same way as The STONE ROSES and HAPPY MONDAYS. Spearheaded by the maverick Mount Florida boy, Bobby Gillespie, and his group of C-86 exiles, the group hit critical and commercial paydirt in 1991 with the ultimate rock-to-rave fusion set, “Screamadelica” – winner of the first ever Mercury Music Prize. For sheer breadth of vision the record has yet to meet its match. PRIMAL SCREAM exist to be one of the globe’s truest punk-rawk bands – a rare thing in these money spinning, 3-chord, pop-producing times. Like the BBC, they educate, entertain and inform… they also make one hell’uva racket.
Formed in the city of Glasgow in the summer of ’84, concurrent JESUS & MARY CHAIN drummer Bobby Gillespie (a former bassist with indie-pop gloomsters, The WAKE), Scotland had yet another post-“Postcard”-esque combo to carry the can. Maintaining an alliance with Creation Records (home to J&MC), vocalist Gillespie, guitarist James Beattie, bassist Robert “Throb” Young and drummer Tom McGurk, cut their indie debut 45, `All Fall Down’ in ’85. When Gillespie took up PRIMAL SCREAM on a full-time basis (rhythm guitarist Paul Harte and Martin St. John on tambourine were added), another platter, `Crystal Crescent’, also found its way on to a C-86 compilation.
Recorded by core members, Gillespie, Young, Jim Navajo (alias Beattie) and rhythm guitarist Andrew Innes (who’d superseded Harte’s replacement, Stuart May), PRIMAL SCREAM’s debut album SONIC FLOWER GROOVE (1987) {*6}, was released on Creation boss Alan McGee’s Warners subsidiary label, Elevation. The MAYO THOMPSON-produced set, including spawned singles, `Imperial’ and `Gentle Tuesday’, saw the band pretty much live up to their name, a primitive take on raw ROLLING STONES, STOOGES etc, with a bit of BYRDS jingle-jangle thrown in. Similar in many respects to indie Scots acts inspired by what’s around them, rather than what’s within them, this sound served the group well through to their sophomore Creation Records set, PRIMAL SCREAM (1989) {*5}. Without his SPIREA X-bound Beattie/Navajo as his songwriting sidekick (Innes would fill the vacant spot), indie-pop went 60s Paisley-pattern and downright hairy, while the quartet (with the addition of ex-FELT’s Martin Duffy on piano) assumed a retro-Spector/Fowley-esque aplomb on `Ivy Ivy Ivy’, `Gimme Gimme Teenage Head’ and `Lone Star Girl’.
Enticed away from the glam-pop-garage of their previous work and enamoured by the acid house explosion, Gillespie, Innes and Young, enlisted the esteemed Andrew Weatherall to remix `I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have’ from their bargain-bin second set. More a revolution than a remix, Weatherall, in turn, created the stoned funk shuffle of `Loaded’, released both cuts as a double-A sided single in the process, bringing indie and rave kids together on the same dancefloor for the first time. PRIMAL SCREAM were now set on pushing the parameters of rock and rave, releasing a trio of singles that defined an era, `Come Together’, was a turn-of-the-90s-style hedonist gospel that converted even the most cynical of rock bores while the following year’s `Higher Than The Sun’ (featuring JAH WOBBLE on bass) was perhaps the Scream’s stellar moment, a narcotic lullaby beamed from another galaxy.
Combining all the aforementioned A-sides with a trippy 13th FLOOR ELEVATORS cover (`Slip Inside This House’), a heavyweight dub workout, and a clutch of Stones-like beauties, SCREAMADELICA (1991) {*10} was flawless. Opening with the euphoric, Jimmy Miller-produced `Movin’ On Up’ (the best song JAGGER-RICHARDS never wrote), the album effortlessly proved that dance and rock were essentially carved out of the same soulful root source, a seam that’s been mined by any artist that’s ever mattered.
Inevitably, then, the George Drakoulias-produced follow-up, GIVE OUT BUT DON’T GIVE UP (1994) {*6}, was a disappointment in comparison. Recorded in Memphis, the record saw PRIMAL SCREAM trying far too hard to achieve a roughshod R&B grit. Where before they had made the Stones’ sound their own, now they came across as mere plagiarists, and over-produced plagiarists at that. Granted, the likes of `Jailbird’ and `Rocks’ were funkier than any of the insipid indie competition around at the time, and Gillespie’s epileptic handclap routine was always more endearing than the run-of-the-mill rock posturing; funk icon GEORGE CLINTON guested on three cuts. Rumours of severe drug abuse abounded at this point and few were shocked when, in January 1994, it emerged that Martin Duffy had survived a near fatal stabbing in America. For the next couple of years, the band kept a fairly low profile, only a contribution to the Trainspotting soundtrack and an unofficial Scottish “Euro ‘96” single confirmed the ‘Scream were still in existence.
But while Scotland stumbled to defeat (again!!), PRIMAL SCREAM (with a fresh signing of former STONES ROSES bassist Gary “Mani” Mounfield) cleaned up their act and recorded the wonderful VANISHING POINT (1997) {*8}. Apparently cut as an alternative soundtrack to cult 70s road movie, Kowalski, this album was the true follow-up/comedown to the psychedelic high of “Screamadelica”. `Out Of The Void’ was the band’s darkest moment to date, while the title track and `Stuka’ were fractured, paranoid psych-outs. Only the vintage screen-show of `Get Duffy’ and the mellow `Star’ offered any respite. Big on dub and low on derivation, the album was a spirited return to form for one of Scotland’s most enduring and ground-breaking acts. It’s accompanying dub set, ECHO DEK (1997) {*6}, achieved a tidy response from dancehall boffins and lovers of their leftfield outings.
The year of 2000 saw the ‘Scream return with all guns blazing for the destructive release of XTRMNTR {*8} – aka “Exterminator”. An aptly-titled album, this was worrying music for the post-millennium tensions of anti-capitalist marches and technology protests. It shaped its own poisonous force as the listener ventured further into the set: `Kill All Hippies’ was certainly a phrase derived from the punk movement, while `Swastika Eyes’ had a morbid, self-asserting ring to it. Gillespie mixed in exuberant styles such as hip-hop (`Pills’), trance (`Accelerator’) and a bit of old MY BLOODY VALENTINE tones into the devilish brew. One could describe the vowelless set as a disjointed soundtrack to a Jean Luc Godard horror pic, if he… er… did a horror that is. All in all, PRIMAL SCREAM were wise to return to wigged-out psychedelia – a style they were criticised for getting out of – with the self-indulgent “Vanishing Point”. Their sixth set was a valuable lesson in the art of punk: it’s loud, it has balls, it’s offensive, it’s not all tuneful, and most importantly, it makes sense.
This method was also applied to PRIMAL SCREAM’s seventh album proper, EVIL HEAT (2002) {*6}, which delved even deeper into Gillespie’s obsession with dark, throbbing soundscapes. Possibly the musical equivalent to being repeatedly run over by a tank and then turned into a metal blob, the set curiously explored the avant-metal punk scene a little bit closer, with single `Miss Lucifer’ spitting and bubbling like an unsteady jar of boiling acid. Bass-lines thrashed (especially on `Skull X’), keyboards sounding like they were being set on fire and Bobby pumped up his frontman image by turning a piece of deadpan vocal into a plethora of screams. Apart from the SUICIDE connections, and the screeching, industrial electro-clash of it all, “Evil Heat” (complete with sinister homemade, cut ’n’ paste album jacket) included some cringe-worthy moments: the lazy, drugged-up slur of nu-blues number `The Lord Is My Shotgun’, supermodel Kate Moss’s dreary rendition of the LEE HAZLEWOOD dirge `Some Velvet Morning’ and the re-working of `Rise’ (originally entitled `Bomb The Pentagon’, but shamelessly re-titled for fears of American distribution). Former MY BLOODY VALENTINE casualty Kevin Shields took on the recording duty, doing his damnedest to make it sound as dirty and as translucent as possible.
PRIMAL SCREAM were back in the headlines in summer 2005 following oor Bob’s crowd-baiting shenanigans at Glastonbury. He mightn’t have much time for hippies but to Gillespie, rock’n’roll’s unquiet urge has always traced its lineage way back beyond the 1976 year zero championed by the current crop of young post-punk Turks. Critics feted many of these bands, but decided to take issue with PRIMAL SCREAM over their latest Youth-produced retro binge, RIOT CITY BLUES (2006) {*6}. In reality, its bar stool-wielding sleaze-rawk was no more derivative than contemporary neo-new wave clatter, just a few years older. They’d been there already but when you believe so fervently (even after all these years, a forty-something Gillespie is still the most feral frontman in the West), why not go there again? It was certainly a place where the fans felt at home; carrying the album into the Top 5 and making leading single, `Country Girl’, the highest charting ‘Scream single ever. Riding roughshod over retro rawk, one could draw a line anywhere between the FACES and NEW YORK DOLLS to The BLACK CROWES on incendiary tracks such as `Nitty Gritty’, `When The Bomb Drops’ (featuring Warren Ellis and WILL SERGEANT) and `Dolls (Sweet Rock And Roll)’ (highlighting Alison Mosshart of The KILLS).
2008 saw a relatively speedy return to the UK Top 10 for PRIMAL SCREAM. The Bjorn Yttling & Paul Epworth-produced BEAUTIFUL FUTURE {*5} – with a opening title track fashioned on an early ENO sound – was variably stuck in the past, a Frankenstein-meets-Hirst hotchpotch of hooks and glam-beats. With more than a nod to RINGO STARR’s “Back Off Boogaloo”, `Zombie Man’ and who-knows for the minor hit 45, `Can’t Go Back’, originality seemed to fly out of the window. A star-studded guest list of LOVEFOXXX (aka singer Luisa Hanae Matsushita) on `I Love To Hurt (You Love To Be Hurt)’, folk-singer LINDA THOMPSON on `Over & Over’ and axeman-cometh Josh Homme on `Necro Hex Blues’, did little to shake up an ugly past. Limited copies of the CD, unearthed their umpteenth cover in HAWKWIND’s `Urban Guerrilla’.
Over the years, cover B-sides have popped up now and then, and here’s the list:- `I’m Gonna Make You Mine’ (hit for Lou Christie), `Carry Me Home’ (DENNIS WILSON), `Understanding’ (SMALL FACES), `96 Tears’ (? & THE MYSTERIANS), `Know Your Rights’ (The CLASH), `Motorhead (MOTORHEAD), `Darklands/Badlands’ (JESUS & MARY CHAIN), `Gimme Some Truth’ (JOHN LENNON), `To Live Is To Fly’ (TOWNES VAN ZANDT), `It’s Not Enough’ (JOHNNY THUNDERS), `Gamblin’ Bar Room Blues’ (JIMMIE RODGERS), among a few others. A subsequent joint effort, `Black To Comm”, with idols MC5 (or DKT – Michael Davis, Wayne Kramer and Dennis Thompson) was recorded at the Meltdown fest in London in 2008, while an LP soundtrack released was delivered three years later; a special double-CD/DVD found its way out in 2012.
Time then to reflect on some sort of future. But it would be without Mani, who, in 2011, found a tempting offer to return to The STONE ROSES, too good to turn down; former MY BLOODY VALENTINE bassist Debbie Googe stepped into the fold until Simon Butler came in on tour. The long wait for PRIMAL SCREAM’s tenth set (the DAVID HOLMES produced MORE LIGHT {*8}), was over in May 2013. Examining the long-player, as it clocked in at just under 70 minutes, a schizoid change had finally come over Gillespie and Co; evidence stemming from their gloriously symphonic and lengthy opening cuts, `2013’ and `River Of Pain’ – think OLDFIELD’s “Hergest Ridge”-meets-NYMAN-meets-BOWIE for the mantra/psych intro. Focused on building something rather SPIRITUALIZED – in a euphoric and climactic assault – proper vibes arrived by way of `Culturecide’, `Walking With The Beat’, `It’s Alright, It’s OK’ and the mildly SUICIDE-esque, `Goodbye Johnny’. Repeated listens would ensure best results for an ambitious comeback.
Gillespie, Innes, Duffy and Mooney were back on track in spring 2016 with the Bjorn Yttling-co-produced CHAOSMOSIS {*7}, a near-Top 10 record suitably titled in its sprawling, candy-coated “screamadelica”. Not everyone’s cup of Nambarrie, and peppered with noodling neon pop (`(Feeling Like A) Demon Again’ very old-hat DEPECHE MODE, and `I Can Change’ dreamy with sole-less shoegazing), the fiery funk and rock-ola elements exude from the respective head-space swirling minutes of `Trippin’ On Your Love’ and `100% Of Nothing’. Featuring the dance-pop addition of actress/model Sky Ferreira on `Where The Light Gets In’, the marmite effect took shape on the NEW ORDER-esque `Autumn In Paradise’ (ditto `Carnival Of Fools’), the grungy-gospel of `Golden Rope’ and the folk-y `Private Wars’.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/BG-GRD // rev-up MCS Jan2013-Mar2016

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