Classics Critiqued

This is a monthly feature where classic and cult albums are revisited and reassessed for the modern listener. The only rule is that it must be a critically acclaimed or cult record released before 2000.

Primal Scream – “Screamadelica” (1991, Creation Records)


For this month’s Classics Critiqued I’ve chosen what is often viewed as the album of the rave era: Primal Scream’s “Screamadelica”. The album rescued the band from a potential split, won them the first Mercury Music Prize in 1992 and has been included on nearly every Best Albums of All Time list for the last 20 years. Earlier this month the album was given a grand 20th anniversary reissue complete with a replica tour t-shirt, DJ slipmat, 50 page Perfect bound book, DVD documentary and two bonus CDs. I will explore the album’s creation, its legacy and the influence its groundbreaking fusion of styles has had on music since.

The album began life in 1988 when the band’s manager, label boss and lifelong friend Alan McGee took Bobby Gillespie (vocals), Robert ‘Throb’ Young (guitar) and Andrew Innes (guitar) clubbing to experience the Rave/Acid House phenomenon that had started to sweep through the UK that same year. Being punk purists at heart they were unimpressed at first but further visits revealed to them a new revolutionary sound that could replace the “sexless, ambitionless” indie rock that their peers were playing. As the band immersed themselves in this new life style three pivotal albums were released which proved guitars and dance beats were meant to go together:  “Bummed” (1988) and “Thrills, Pills and Bellyaches” (1990) by the Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses’ self titled debut album from 1989. These albums contained similar elements to those that would feature in Primal Scream’s larger melting pot. The Happy Mondays mixed funk’s groove and swagger, Shaun Ryder’s poet laureate lyrics and snatches of riffs and rhythms stolen from disco, soul and pop classics of the ‘60s and ‘70s in their albums’ psychedelic stew that stirred a nation from its slumber. Meanwhile the Roses sound was slimmer and slicker but still grooved like James Brown (‘Fool’s Gold’ wholly lifted the ‘Funky Drummer’ breakbeat). Primal Scream were obviously listening as they worked for 18 months on an album that surpassed both these bands finest efforts.

“Screamadelica” is an album that chimed in so well with the time that it should sound dated, as much of the rave era music does now due to the genre’s cheesy sounds, which have been superseded by the constant forward march of technology. A common misperception of the release is that it is a rave album as opposed to an album influenced by rave music’s spirit. Bobby Gillespie has recently pointed out, (the) “three big albums for the acid house crowd were “Screamadelica”, the Monday’s “Pills ‘N’ Thrills” and The Stone Roses’ first album, and none of them really were acid house. They were rock albums that had a dance feel. We had never wanted to do a straight-up, out-and-out dance record either. Ten banging piano dance tracks would have been boring. The piano on ‘Don’t Fight It, Feel It’ isn’t like that. It’s not Italian piano house, its more Jelly Roll Morton – sexy, slinky.”

If further proof was needed “Screamdelica” begins with ‘Movin’ On Up’, an homage to the sound of the Rolling Stones. It was produced by Jimmy Miller who had produced the Stones from “Beggars Banquet” (1968) to Goats Head Soup” (1973). It is followed by an acid house take on acid rock pioneers The 13th Floor Elevators classic ‘Slip Inside This House’. The album’s centrepiece (and penultimate song, there are two versions) ‘Higher Than The Sun’ is a sprawling dub track featuring ex- Public Image Limited bassist Jah Wobble and production by chill-out room favourites The Orb. A majority of the songs are underpinned by deep funk bass lines and the album’s title hints at the influence of psychedelic-funk innovators Parliament-Funkadelic. Also there’s its most laid back moments are the “country-rock pastiche” of ‘Damaged’ and ‘Shine Like Stars’” twinkling comedown.

This melting pot of musical fusions could have become an overcooked mess were it not for Primal Scream’s skilful writing team of Gillespie, Innes and Young and the talent of their celebrated co-producer Andrew Weatherall (whose remix of ‘I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have’, renamed ‘Loaded’, launched the album properly in 1990) and programmer Bill Nicholson (music technology was still a complex and unpredictable beast 20 years ago). The combination of revolutionary technology and technique was matched with Primal Scream reaching previously unimaginable levels of song writing. They were transformed from a run of the mill indie-rock band to creators of songs that still resonate today and may do so well into the future, thanks in part to the reissue of “Screamadelica”.

“Screamadelica” cannot claim a direct influence on individual acts as it’s an album that is unique, a true one off. Its influence has instead been to inspire what Gillespie has described as “deconstructing the band!” defying barriers between rock and dance music and ideas. Without “Screamadelica” there would be no LCD Soundsystem or The Rapture and Asian Dub Foundation would not have found favour with an accepting media and audience. In 1991 there was no dominant alternative music scene in the UK (coincidently Nirvana’s equally seminal “Nevermind” was released in the same week as “Screamadelica”) and this allowed freedom for a band like Primal Scream to create their complex masterpiece unhindered by what was in fashion or which scene was most popular. The ripple effect of its release is still being felt now, as with LCD Soundsytem et al, and the new reissue should ensure that there is another generation of rule breakers inspired by its brilliance.

Spotify Playlist:

Primal Scream – Screamadelica (20th Anniversary Edition)

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