Let it not be forgotten that, with their last album, "Screamadelica", Primal Scream took prime period Rolling Stones, contemporary dance music, Ry Cooder samples, Orb-style ambience and dub-heavy basslines and rolled them into one long, swooping extravaganza that deservedly scooped the first Mercury Music Prize award, and which still sounds incredible almost three years later. Unfortunately, "Give Out But Don't Give Up" is an almost total washout.
This time the Stones obsession has moved forwards, from "Beggars Banquet" to "Exile On Main Street" - a promising start, but unfortunately that's also the end of it: an almost note-perfect reconstruction of that album's image, without any attempt to crack into its soul: something the Scream's tacking on of ageing funk veteran George Clinton on a couple of the more rambling jams here totally fails to disguise.
I'm not going to comment on the, no doubt coincidental of course, similarities between the title of the first single off the album, "Rocks", and the Stones' "Rocks Off". I shall remain quiet about the lyrics which, in lieu of having anything to say, stitch together every worn-out 70s cliche that populates the dusty corners of Bobby Gillespie's record collection. I won't even mention how the talents of a pretty remarkable bunch of people (including Big Star/Ry Cooder producer Jim Dickinson, Heartbreaker Benmont Tench, The Memphis Horns and Tom Dowd, not to mention the Ardent Studios where Big Star used to record) are miserably squandered on such substandard material. I'll merely note how saddened I am that an opportunity to do something inspiring, and move the cause of popular music forward, just like "Screamadelica" did, has been lost. And watch it get lapped up by the bucketload by teenies who haven't heard "Exile On Main Street".
PRIMAL SCREAM University Union Cardiff 7/4/94
O.K., I bought my ticket wa-a-ay before the new album was released (a canny trick used by concert promoters that, be aware!), and wasn't expecting much from the night, but in the car on the way to the gig the new album seemed to acquire a "built for touring" ambience that suggested things might not turn out so bad. Maybe I've just been playing it too quietly...
After a lengthy intro tape larded with telling quantities of Stones tunes (even stuff off "Exile...", the sound of graves being dug in context, I thought) and soul songs, the Scream turned up at 9:30, studiously bashing to death whatever Northern soul classic was on the tape at the time: a strange crew they looked, too, with white-tuxed bassist not looking at all out of place on the spangly 70s stage set.
They launched straight into "Jailbird", which, for all it's cliched lyrics ("Scratching like a tomcat/Got a monkey on my back", repeat ad nauseam) and heavy handed mixing (boom...boom...boom...shake the room etc.) pretty remarkably managed to pretend to be a passable imitation of a Good Time. Then - the Gary Glitter stomp of "Rocks", which, despite the band not being the last word in technical perfection, remained true to its 1972 roots. Third up was a fine "Movin' On Up", by which time, stodgy sound apart, my preconceptions had been pretty much eradicated. I stand by my assessment of "Give Out But Don't Give Up", but heard in context those same songs that depressed me so much make perfect sense. The Stones can't boogie like this these days, so why not let the Scream? Especially when you wouldn't fit one of the Stones' lorries into this venue?
Other good bits: the surprise appearance early on of "I'm Losing More Than I'll Ever Have" (which Andy Weatherall has long since turned into the divine "Loaded", which they also played) from their eponymous second album; "Higher Than The Sun", a song it's taken me over two years to actually like, which tonight spiralled dreamily through, among other ports of call, Sly Stone's "Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey", "Whole Lotta Love" and John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme"; the lighting, especially when the audience got flooded with yellow light during "Higher Than The Sun" - a rock 'n' roll moment if ever there was one - and the little orange, white and green Atlantic label effects, and a fairly energetic stab at The Stooges' "No Fun" and "I Wanna Be Your Dog".
Irrespective of your opinions of their recorded output, which I'd be the first to admit has wavered considerably over the years, it must be admitted that, with their wild tales of excess and full-on hedonism attitude, Primal Scream are possibly the last proper link we have with the true spirit of rock 'n' roll. They may not be an industry, but they're an institution at least, and for that they should be treasured.
PRIMAL SCREAM Vanishing Point (Creation)
After a disastrous career move that saw them recast as some kind of shambolic boogie big-band (a Delaney & Bonnie for the 90s, anyone?) the Scream Team return with an album that lays an unchallenged claim as the rightful succession to the Mercury award-winning wondrousness of "Screamadelica".
The first signs that some kind of vibe regeneration had occurred arrived in the form of their eponymous contribution to the "Trainspotting" soundtrack - ten minutes of instrumental indie gumbo - which reappears here in a, to my ears, mildly modified form. Then there was the fine Irvine Welsh-enhanced dub rantalong "The Big Man And The Scream Team Meet The Barmy Army Uptown" single (sadly not included here), surely the finest football song bar none (yes, even better than "World In Motion", Hooky). Earlier this year "Kowalski" arrived, a strange, slithering dubbed up device swathed in dialogue from the cult 70s road movie that provides the albums title, quickly followed up by the "Star" single, a slinky second cousin to "Higher Than The Sun". Cred spectacularly reclaimed, now comes the album.
Which is marvellous. Half a dozen listens doesnt tell me definitively whether it actually betters "Screamadelica", but it espouses the same we know that music is music philosophy, catching in its dragnet bizarre loungecore/soul film soundtrack instrumentals ("Get Duffy", "If They Move, Kill Em"), bumper dub experiments ("Stuka"), Stooges/MC5 fury ("Medication", not the same as the Spiritualized song but not a million miles away from the Screams own "Rocks" after a productive few sessions with a personal trainer), the odd Hawkwind cover ("Motörhead" done very well indeed) and "Shine Like Stars"-style loveliness ("Long Life"). Guest appearances, trimmed down from the cast of thousands that sprawled all over the bloated "Give Out But Dont Give Up", include cameos by Andrew Love and Wayne Jackson of the Memphis Horns, the legendary Augustus Pablo and ex Pistol Glen Matlock, and of course the Scream themselves have been recently swelled by the addition of former Stone Roses bassist Mani. What it doesnt have, yet, at least, is the faint air of cheesiness that hangs over "Screamadelica" nearly six years after its release - theres nothing (quite) as blatant as "Movin On Up"s Stones-isms, for example, and the likes of "Loaded" cant help but sound a bit, well, nineties these days. So, "Vanishing Point" sees the Scream repositioned where they rightfully deserve to be, alongside the likes of Radiohead and Spiritualized (q.v.) at the cutting edge of this thing we call rock.
PRIMAL SCREAM Echo Dek (Creation)
What with the Scream Team being a band seemingly incapable of doing things by halves, Bobby Ugly and company present for your listening pleasure a dub version of this summers wondrous, career-saving "Vanishing Point" album, tweaked by On-U-Sound supremo Adrian Sherwood. And, get this, if you want to buy it on vinyl it comes as a box set of five 7" singles, for maximum sofa-to-turntable-and-back-again gentle stroll factor. Not wanting to wear out my carpet I managed to pick up one of the limited pre-release proper album promo copies that have been filtering out from some record vendors for the last few months...which means one less track than the proper release, no sleeve artwork or track titles, so my observations will be even vaguer that usual, but here goes.
Two fabulous albums in less than four months - how do they manage it? "Echo Dek" is "Vanishing Point" through a distorted, reverberent, smoky haze, basically. Throughout the eight tracks dub treatments echo like distress signals, Bobby Ugly turns up to croon lazily for, oh, seconds at a time, there are doorbells, hectoring rastas, backwards melodicas, bass, Indian instrumentation, voodoo, gumbo, the whole shooting match. Some critics have drubbed "Echo Dek" for making a weird album weirder. I prefer to think of it as defocusing "Vanishing Point"; the rigid drum machine tempos get that much woozier, the melodies reduced to their constituent parts and turned upside-down and inside-out, the source material barely recognisable. "Echo Dek" is a twin tribute to the Screams visionary talent and Adrian Sherwoods ability to take it even farther out than they could themselves.
PRIMAL SCREAM Swastika Eyes (Creation)
The Scream's imminent return to battle is spearheaded by this new single, a confused combination of big beats and Stooges/MC5 style political splatter rock, Mr Gillespie ranting and railing blindly against every besuited establishment figure within spitting distance, all of whom he asserts have swastika eyes. It's as astonishing a comeback as "Kowalski" was two years ago, as totally dissimilar to anything else you're ever likely to hear and also just as unlikely to spawn a tidal wave of inferior imitations by lesser bands. On the 12" it appears all dressed up in its Chemical Brothers best, wherein Tom and Ed continue to spurn every cheesy big beat cliché that made them interesting, and in a mix by Spectre, whoever he/they may be, which is as minimally different as to make no odds. But maybe that's a product of the almost Lego-like simplicity of the source material: no matter how you break down and reconstruct its component parts, "Swastika Eyes" will inevitably stubbornly remain wedged in its own corner, way out of left field. The album arrives early next year: start hoarding your record tokens.
PRIMAL SCREAM Exterminator (Creation)
Another album, another complete reinvention for the Scream team. Peeling off the husks of the cult-film worshippers that mashed up "Vanishing Point", Bobby Gillespie and an expanded crew that now officially incorporates the sole remaining dread hand at the wheel of the good ship My Bloody Valentine, guitar and effects deity Kevin Shields, appear, metaphorically at least, khaki suited and jackbooted, and ready to rumble in an ominous, low frequency fashion.
"Exterminator" is, briefly, a great, great album. That's cleared that up, then. But what makes it great also makes it remarkable: it's the sound of late 60s splatter-punk garage rock being warping and wefting against avant-garde progressive jazz and thumping big beat. You might be able to, briefly, pick familiar ingredients from the glutinous soup, depending on what baggage you bring to the party - at a guess the ghosts of Joy Division, Sun Ra, MC5, The Stooges, The Chemical Brothers, Miles Davis and Public Image Ltd are at large in these steel plated grooves - but seconds later they'll be submerged again, swept under by noises yet more alien and distorted.
"Swastika Eyes" was last year's single, appearing here (needlessly, perhaps) in two guises: thumping beats, wailing rhetoric, Bobby Gillespie's sheer unadulterated anger. The title track opens out this somewhat claustrophobic template only a little, Bobby G yelling something about "No civil disobedience", railing against the apathy of a nation. Riding the white noise and distortion ticket there's "Accelerator", which sounds a little like a fuzzed up distant cousin to their cover of "Motorhead" on the last album, and something called "MBV Arkestra [If They Move Kill 'Em]", which on closer inspection turns out to be Kevin Shields' apocalyptic free jazz deconstruction of the "Vanishing Point" track, originally released as a single two years ago but always welcome. "Keep Your Dreams" is the token few minutes of clear white light sweetness, following in the illustrious footsteps of "Shine Like Stars" and "Long Life", blissed out and en-trance-ing, 'cept with a title borrowed from Suicide and lyrics that mention syphilis, a recurring ailment throughout "Exterminator".
Elsewhere the sublimely messed up closer "Shoot Speed/Kill Light" is more of a tribute to The Velvet Underground's "White Light/White Heat" than David Bowie's wimpy "Queen Bitch" could ever be, despite the thin one's dedication on the back cover of "Hunky Dory", "Pills" features the unexpected sound of Bobby Gillespie rapping (initially disastrous but much redeemed by the splenetic radio-friendly chorus of "Fuck/sick/sick/fuck" repeated ad nauseum), and the album is rounded off with a brace of high quality almost-instrumentals ("Kill All Hippies" and "Blood Money") and the band's rather lower quality contribution to the soundtrack of hopeless Irvine Welsh exploitation Britflick "The Acid House", "Insect Royalty".
The occasional clunking low note aside, "Exterminator" is a terrific, ear-syringingly noisy state of the nation address, as much (or arguably as little) a document of its times as "Screamadelica" and "Vanishing Point" were. It also sees the fine line between songwriting and rampant experimentation become hopelessly, irreparably blurred, which is a considerable achievement. And even though, like the two aforementioned certified Scream classics, "Exterminator" is only half new material and half reheated quality leftovers and handouts, it flows as seamlessly as if it were made and played in a day. Their pursuit of excellence knows no borders and boundaries, and if, as is rumoured, this is the last ever album to be released by Creation, Alan McGee couldn't have lucked a finer sound to burn out to.
PRIMAL SCREAM Evil Heat (Columbia)
"Evil Heat" is Primal Scream's first major label release since their unhappy 1987 debut, "Sonic Flower Groove", and it might be instructive to consider how much Bobby Gillespie's staunchly independent stance was tempered by the realisation that he would be sharing an imprint with heroes such as Miles Davis and Iggy And The Stooges. Certainly, Columbia's old Walking Eye trademark is over "Evil Heat" like a rash.
However, after the assault rifle attack of "Xtrmntr" - the last album to be released on the doomed Creation imprint, and comfortably one of the greatest - "Evil Heat" is akin to being threatened by a child's plastic toy gun. It's the sound of influences being stitched together in a manner more blatant than on any Scream album since the painful "Give Out But Don't Give Up". Yes, Bobbie Gillespie has a fantastic record collection, but here it is again in the Suicide meets Neu! meets MC5 drone that powers practically all of this album.
"Deep Hit Of Morning Sun" is "Higher Than The Sun" with a hangover and bathed in harsh white light (and quite possibly white heat as well). Single "Miss Lucifer" is little more than an emasculated version of the last album's title track, peppered with nonsense about panther girls and Nazi hats. "Detroit" could be a Jesus And Mary Chain hits medley arranged for stylophone, and one of many examples of the album's posturing, empty imagery, which frequently boils down to little more than a sequence of hip tags and references, even down to the song titles: it's as if the band are desperately trying to nail down an attitude by repetition and association, without being entirely clear on what that attitude actually is. And as if you couldn't guess, "Autobahn 66" does indeed sound like Kraftwerk daydreaming about motoring west.
Known as "Bomb The Pentagon" in an earlier, simpler life, the motorik anti-MIC rant "Rise" now bears more than a passing resemblance to Public Image Ltd's "Chant". The electro-shock blues of "The Lord Is My Shotgun" at least proffers a little variety, and although Gillespie's vocals are distorted beyond comprehension Robert Plant's gulping harmonica work is a nice touch. "City" is apparently a retooled version of "Sick City", a song the band contributed to David Holmes' "Bow Down To The Exit Sign" album. A cover of Lee Hazlewood's "Some Velvet Morning" provides the unlikely highlight of the record by default, possibly because of Kate Moss' blank-eyed, Stepford child vocal, which is not exactly the kind of sound you'd expect to encounter on a Primal Scream album (unlike practically every other sound you encounter on this particular Primal Scream album). "Skull X" has a good-natured, late 60s Detroit clatter to it, but Bobby's delivery of the verses never fails to remind me of The Stranglers' "(Get A) Grip (On Yourself)", which might not be the desired effect. Finally, "Space Blues #2" is another variation on the traditional atheist gospel Scream album closer (see also "Long Life", "Forever", "Shine Like Stars" or practically any Spiritualized album), and none the worse or better for it.
There have been far worse Primal Scream albums - "Sonic Flower Groove", "Primal Scream" and "Give Out But Don't Give Up" leap to mind, for starters - but that doesn't prevent "Evil Heat" from being a directionless disappointment. It's not quite the potent brew you might expect members of Felt, The Jesus And Mary Chain, Led Zeppelin, My Bloody Valentine, The Stone Roses and Two Lone Swordsmen to be able to cook up between them.
PRIMAL SCREAM/CLAY MACHINE GUN Manchester Ritz 27 April 2006
Clay Machine Guns weapon of choice is a blend of softened-Siouxsie style punk and Yeah Yeah Yeahs-esque Noo York art garage. They seem a little stroppy tonight, publicly ragging their van driver for getting them to the venue three hours later than scheduled, forcing them straight from the stage door to the stage, pausing only to be showered in beer. The way Amanda Grace petulantly and pointedly throws her microphone to the stage at the end of their brief set doesnt impress anyone, either. Factor in some sisterhood-sabotaging lyrical unpleasantness along the lines of Kick the bitch in the cunt so she cant have a baby and Clay Machine Gun appear to be overdrawn at the merit bank. Next.
When the Scream take the stage, Bobby Gillespie, looking every inch the junior Jagger in his suave jacket, launches into an indecipherable rant about people throwing stuff, leading local bass legend Mani, once a Stone Rose, to offer additional clarification, not for the last time during the evening. They launch into imminent new single Country Girl and it becomes immediately obvious that Ive caught them on the cusp of another period of Stones fixation. The last time I saw them live was when the Scream team dragged their raggle-taggle caravan of influences into Cardiff touring Give Up But Dont Give Out, an album that, to put it mildly, was aware of The Rolling Stones early 70s work. Much of the material played tonight from the upcoming Riot City Blues album seemed to suggest a leaner, meaner version of where that band were at about half an hour before they first heard Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, albeit with lyrics that suggested Bobby Gillespie was singing the track list from some Nuggets-style compilation, with a deal of phrases like Rock n roll doctor and Shake some action in evidence. Still other previously unheard moments sounded like Tomorrow Never Knows on something very psychotic, and MC5 attacking My Generation".
I seem to recall an advertisement in an IT trade journal I subscribe to that featured a picture of a tortoise with a head at both ends of its shell, and I was reminded of this image repeatedly tonight. The problem the Scream face is that they cant decide whether they want to play unashamed record collection rock that celebrates their impeccable influences or carve out huge white-hot slabs of blinding futurism, and consequently their discography seems to ping-pong from one extreme to the other, only rarely (Screamadelica, say) synthesising the two into something greater. For all the interviews in which Gillespie defiantly talks the talk, namechecking the challenging likes of Miles Davis and Sun Ra, much of the bands oeuvre withers under rigorous analysis. Take Shoot Speed/Kill Light, for example, a highlight of both the Exterminator album and tonights performance. What does it consist of? Little more than Bobby yelling the title every now and then whilst the band thrash out a distorted motorik groove. Kill All Hippies and Kowalski are further examples of the Scream exploring tomorrows sound today, yet theyre also just a rock band jamming electro over dialogue from hipster cult films (Out Of The Blue and Vanishing Point respectively). And its only a short while into Rocks, their cloddish Exile On Main St.-lite celebration of bacchanalian excess, that I realise that its actually vapid nonsense about nothing at all and I might as well go get the early train home.
But then the encore opens with Slip Inside This House a direct crib of The 13th Floor Elevators original rather than the truncated Balearic version that appears on Screamadelica and Im transfixed (and much of the moshpit below confused, it appears). When its followed with a blistering, runaway Accelerator their sins are utterly forgiven: this is music jacked into the mainline of rock n roll, where MC5 and Motorhead connect with Neu! and Derrick May, and its fabulous. A couple of tunes from the unfocussed Evil Heat lower the temperature, and a closing over of John Lennons Gimme Some Truth is all but unrecognisable at first, but in ten minutes the Scream shook away my doubts and fears that theyd become and maybe always were a retro-rock clotheshorse, just a collection of tics and fascinations. If Riot City Blues turns out to be a diamond-hard, potent rebirth theyll make a believer out of me again.
Jesus And Mary Chain