Screamadelica: A scientific examination
- Malcolm Jack
- 3 March 2011
Two decades after Screamadelica, Primal Scream are touring the album once more. We examine the elements that make up the era-defining LP
25% An Acid House Defining Sound
As described in the recent Creation Records rockumentary Upside Down, Screamadelica’s story began in 1989 after Creation boss Alan McGee relocated from London to Manchester for a year to be at the epicentre of one of the biggest youth culture phenomena Britain had witnessed since punk – acid house, and the so-called second summer of love. He began preaching the gospel of E to Primal Scream singer and bezzie mate Bobby Gillespie, whose band were hitherto jangly indie also-rans that had failed to deliver Creation a single hit in six years. In a cauldron of pills, crossover experimentation and all-night raving, Screamadelica was cooked. Hailed as an instant classic upon its release in 1991, it won the inaugural Mercury Music Prize, framed the zeitgeist and enshrined rock’s enslavement to the beat.
5% Bobby Gillespie’s Swagger
The Primal Scream frontman has always been a divisive figure, with a personality veering from righteous groover to arrogant, lunkheaded prick over the years, depending on his mood and state of intoxication. But the cult of Screamadelica owed everything to his totemic presence, as did the fate of Creation. Screamadelica was Creation’s first in a clutch of epochal albums, and it turned the iconic label’s fortunes around in time for them to sign Oasis and sell tens of millions of records worldwide. ‘I couldn’t have done it without Gillespie,’ says Creation boss Alan McGee at the end of Upside Down of his old Glasgow schoolmate, a figure in whose footsteps Liam and Noel Gallagher promptly followed, swaggering.
35% Pills, Thrills and … more Pills
Nobody will be rubbing their hands together in greedy anticipation of Primal Scream’s Screamadelica performance more than Glasgow’s drug dealers. It’s the quintessential ecstasy album – the very sound of guys on pills making music to take pills to. Gillespie has described ecstasy as the drug that ‘opened everyone’s minds’ during recording sessions. Without it Screamadelica would probably have never existed. Or at least it would have sounded very different, as proven by its lackluster 1994 follow-up Give Out But Don’t Give Up, which was made after the band had developed such serious smack habits they actually thought they were The Rolling Stones.
10% Andrew Weatherall’s Production
The undersung hero of Screamadelica is producer Andrew Weatherall, the Windsor bricklayer turned DJ who was central to a London enclave of acid house centered around the Islington club night Shoom. He brought an inventive, eclectic cut’n’paste aesthetic to bear on the album. ‘Loaded’, for example, is simply a remix of Primal Scream’s ‘I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have’ overlaid with a sampled bassline, bits of obscure movie dialogue and a Gillespie lyric borrowed from Robert Johnson’s ‘Terraplane Blues’. ‘I’m just glad I was part of something that resonates 20 years later,’ a modest Weatherall recently told The List.
20% Songs to Come Up To
As the oft-quoted sample from Peter Fonda B-movie The Wild Angels at the start of ‘Loaded’ (see below) concludes with the lines ‘We’re gonna have a good time, we’re gonna have a party,’ be sure that an SECC on MDMA will follow suit. From the Stonesy gospel of ‘Moving On Up’, through the soulful, psych-frazzled 10-minute epic ‘Come Together’ and the beatific dub of ‘Step Inside This House’, Screamadelica is an album that repeatedly lives up to the title of its standout track ‘Higher Than The Sun’.
5% Songs to Come Down To
While it’s best known as an album for enjoying on a high, Screamadelica is also a record sensitive to the lows too, both emotional and chemical, be it the broken-hearted bluesy wail of ‘Damaged’, or the dawn haze of the almost sea shanty-esque final come down ‘Shine Like Stars’, which sees the album wash out woozily to the sound of a wheezing harmonium and lapping waves.