January 1st, 2004

Primal Scream

Once justly considered twee purveyors of knock-kneed, Paisley shirted indie pop, Primal Scream incorporated, with unseemly abruptness, a dance element into their music with Screamadelica, since which they’ve generally come to be regarded as one of the most important, heavy-duty bands in Britain, to the extent that the decks are reverentially cleared whenever lead singer Bobby Gillespie so much as clears his throat to vent his thoughts. (“It’s all fucked, we need more passion.” etc)

In some respects, Primal Scream present an easy target. Gillespie when dancing, looks like a baby giraffe maliciously dressed up in Keith-Richard-style leathers, trying to keep its balance on a freshly polished floor strewn with marbles. “Get Your Rocks Off” was as embarrassing as Freddy Starr doing a Mick Jagger impersonation. “Bomb The Pentagon” was unfortunately prescient, given that crazed medievalists them followed up with a practical demonstration of such facile anti-Americanism. Bobby Gillespie is so ugly he looks like a knee with a couple of eyebrows felt-tipped on above the nobbly bit. All this is forgivable. None of this, however, excuses the Cult of the Primals, which itself reflects a collective softening of the braincells and slackening of the wits since about 1990 within popular culture. Screamadelica has its moments but these are primarily the responsibility of non-Primals Andrew Weatherall and The Orb, among others. Even so, it sounds pretty, well, vacant 12 years on. Clearly, there was a higher tolerance level back then for loose, baggy grooves which long outstay their welcome, like some coked up Scally at a house party, or like “Don’t Fight It, Feel It”, tumble tediously on like a washing machine on some endless cycle. Elsewhere, cliches once thought dead and buried after they’d been fucked to death are disinterred, scrubbed and presented as fresh ideas. The sitar-flavoured cosmic levitation of “Higher Than The Sun”, which finds Gillespie having to be nudged down from the studio ceiling with a bargepole must have been music to the ears of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, rubbing his hands at the prospect of a new generation of drug-addled popsters with plenty of inner space between their ears to rip off. Then there’s the roping in of gospel singers to make suitably reaffirmative noises on “Movin’ On Up” and “Come Together”, endorphin bursts of quasi-religiosity for white agnostic boys.

Gillespie is one of those people who finds the Sixties brand of blackness most congenial, when they were oppressed and authentic, rather than the more urbane, emancipated sort of blackness you get nowadays. By standing close to figures like George Clinton (who guests on Give Out But Don’t Give Up), or by quoting some thunderously empty rhetoric about music having no categories from Jesse Jackson, he hopes that some of their realness and soulfulness will rub off on him by osmosis. The Primals’ brief “rocks off” phase was a doomed attempt to prove their own particular authenticity as a beefy, proper guitar’n’drums band but everyone laughed till their entrails nearly spilt out of their sides. So it was back to the studio to be putty in the hands of the producers and sound engineers for Vanishing Point in 1997, in which the nonsense of Screamadelica was revisited on “Everybody Is A Star” (no they’re not, Bobby, otherwise who’d mop up your vomit?), on which he namechecks, among other civil rights heroes “Sister” Rosa Parks, (she’s not your sister, man), stating that though she may be gone, her spirit lives on – news, presumably, to the still alive Ms Parks. Then came XTRMNTR, an unfocussed, punky volte-face, with its call to “Kill All Hippies” (present company in the band excepted, presumably) its general air of someone whose swallowed the whole anti-American, No Logo, globalisation protester schtick without so much as a belch. Some might find a virtue in Gillespie’s righteous disgust, others wonder what help the sort of moron who says “all jails are concentration camps” really is. Despite their avowed hope that green-haired soap-dodgers throwing rocks through McDonalds’ windows is the key to global transformation, The Primals’ politics in practice is of the “everything’s fucked, so let’s get high” anarcho-variety. This is the group who portrayed themselves as martyrs of the Criminal Justice Bill when the police called in on them to ask them to turn their music down at 2am in the morning. And rightly so, constables. That’s not martyrdom, that’s inconsiderate twatdom. Jessie “glad he doesn’t run HMV” Jackson was wrong when he said music has no categories. It does and Primal Scream can be filed under F for fatuous.

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