A Christmas confessional, masquerading as a record review….
Primal Scream`s Screamadelica turned thirty in 2021, and to celebrate there were a couple of special pressings in shops. I didn’t buy the box-set of 12s. I couldn’t do it for just one tune. It seemed a bit snide / mercenary of Sony to include a previously rejected remix, and not also offer it to diehard fans / obsessives as a separate, sub-100 quid, release. I did, however, make a dash for Demodelica, and was only slightly disappointed. I made the mistake of reading Jon Savage’s sleeve notes prior to putting the record on. In writing, Jon concludes that an “extraordinary, blissed out” seven-minute sitar and tabla-tastic version of Shine Like Stars is the set’s standout. This gem, though, doesn’t seem to be anywhere on the vinyl that I’ve got. Is it on the CD? Is it coming on a 12” in 2022, flipped with Weatherall`s remix? If so, all is forgiven**.
My level of anticipation for this “product”, to be fair, was huge. When it was announced I was so excited. I`d long been in love with the “Original Version” of Higher Than The Sun – squeezed onto the b-side of 1997`s Burning Wheel – and had fantasized for ages about the possibility of a recording of Bobby Gillespie singing, “Rama lama lama fi fi fi.” A DAT had to be knocking around, mislaid in a move, lost in a loft. All those years I`d imagined the demos to be rock, in the vein of I’m Losing More Than I`ll Ever Have – blues-y “trad” blueprints to be totally transformed – famously “destroyed” – by Hugo Nicolson and Andrew Weatherall. I was forgetting the fact that this was 1990, and The Scream had been regulars at Spectrum, The Shoom, Future, and the Boy`s Own-affiliated club, The Yellow Book. I hadn’t for a minute thought about them working with samplers, or independently shaking in a more “dance-orientated” direction. But they did and they had, and the proof is here, in these “sketches” – far closer to fully formed than I think anyone, other than the band, would have ever expected.
When it arrived, I only played the album in its entirety once. When I did, it really, really, made me smile. I marvelled at its innocence – ignoring the mountain of drugs consumed during its creation. It took me back while it spun, and to be honest, I’ve had too much going on here and now – as we all have – to allow myself the luxury of languishing in yesterdays. Instead, kind of putting up blinkers and focusing on straight ahead. But if you can’t raise a glass and reflect at this time of year, well, when can ya?
From the evidence here, it`s clear that even without the remixes the album was always gonna be a radical departure from where the band had been before. Notwithstanding the able assistance of The Orb, Jah Wobble, or Boys Own Productions, minds would have been blown, for sure. The cut of Come Together included is a finished pop song in its own right. While Andrew and Hugo only seemed to keep the coda`s chorus and gospel choir, it remains a lush, rush-inducing ode to open hearts and open minds. There`s a “baggy” beated Movin` On Up, twisting twisted melons, man. Its piano hook a homage to Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Jesus On The Payroll. Don’t Fight It, Feel It bombards The Beatles` Hey Bulldog with brass blasts and bleeps – stealing from Stax and Sweet Exorcist`s Testone. The percussion possibly pinched from Yello. A collage constructed in an East End bedroom, on a Tascam 4-track and Akai S1000, with a wah-wah guitar lending a frenetic S`Express edge. The robotic, Speak & Spell, scatted results kinda cute, rather than the familiar hedonistic anthem.
Screamadelica is already an electronic tribute to orchestrated Philly soul – a vocoder-ed, voice-boxed, vamp on Roger Troutman, Funkadelic, and Marvin Gaye`s Funky Space Reincarnation. Despite the strings and horns, Denise Johnson`s vocal tour de force defines the tune. Inner Flight is revealed to be built on Bobby`s barmy, stoned to say the least, riff on The Beach Boys` Our Prayer – politely described by Jon as “audio verite”. An aural snapshot that`s followed, on record, by Henry Olson`s contrasting pitch-perfect take. I`m Coming Down, minus the finished article`s sax, is all trebly guitar and tambourine, the Velvet Underground’s Sweet Jane, from the 1969 sessions.
In an interview held at the time of Higher Than The Sun`s release, Bobby was quoted as saying that the band just wanted to make “something really beautiful.” Here it`s fashioned in ethereal reverb, from eerie harpsichord keys – found on a friend`s floppy disc – and faux theremin, actually a Roland SH2. This was before the band switched mission statements, and, assisted by copious quantities of the Devil`s disco dust, set out to be the toughest gang in town. In the process becoming the “balearic” equivalent of “The Curse Of Keith Richards”, and leaving hapless, mere mortal, hangers-on in their wake – casualties, like myself, whose constitution was less than that of a concrete elephant. Folk who fell by the wayside, as the rock`n`roll war against any modicum of restraint raged, and getting Loaded became a full-time job.
When the Screamdelica circus played London’s Empire Ballroom Leicester Square, I was there at the front. Said Higher Than The Sun – intro`d by heavily sedated orgasmic sighs, and a seismic bass boom – took the fucking roof off. Post-performance, as the party raved on, Bobby mingled with the crowd, and he whispered in my ear, “I could see you from the stage, man. That song`s about you. It`s dedicated to you.” Now to say that this made my evening / morning / week / month / year is a massive understatement, and I’ve carried that anecdote with me, tight, like a part of my soul, for three decades. It`s only been recently – with lockdowns` enforced sobriety (I never, well nearly never, drink alone, anymore) – that I’ve entertained the chance that, completely off his chops, Mr. G. may well have said the same to everyone that he bumped into and vaguely recognized that night. Nonetheless, I love that song. If I ever get down to my target weight, and get skinny enough for it to look cool, I`ll have “What I’ve got in my head you can’t buy, steal, or borrow”, tattooed somewhere.
These early versions in places are perhaps a more apt soundtrack to 1991`s messy, sticky, scenes than those polished, and previously released. For “apt” read “realistic”. Slightly shambolic, and strung out. Anybody remember Hanif Kureishi`s movie, London Kills Me? For some of us it wasn’t so far fetched. Bobby sings, “I`ve been so high, I never wanted to come down”, and you see, there`s the thing. Weekend binges became weeks on end, countless pills and grams scored on tick, until there was no up nor down.
Shine Like Stars starts with a few seconds of ghostly harmony – a treated snippet of The Beloved’s Sun Rising? – then shuffles and shimmies to a looped Spoonie Gee break. Brian Wilson`s wind chimes rattling, accompanying the truly touching love song.
“I watch you dance, you look so happy, lost in the moment….”
A mad, manic, still speeding, lullaby, now floating on a damn fine final mantra of “You and I weren’t born to follow.”
Inner Flight, I`m Coming Down, and Shine Like Stars, all initially featured variations on Robert “Throb” Young`s dynamite Damaged country lick. The latter is present, fucked up and fragile, cracked like the sleep-deprived echo that would karaoke inside my addled head. Higher Than The Sun and Damaged might be the most perfect songs that The Scream ever wrote. I once ranted about the latter to Weatherall, while hammered, cornering and bothering him when he was attempting to have a night off at Danny Rampling`s post-Shoom mid-week house haunt, Glam.
These demos, you know, they do run like a diary. Has anyone ever thought about using Screamdelica as the basis for a book, or a film? Can I copyright that idea, or have first shot at the script? There were so many of us living in the margins – on tins of shoplifted baked beans – as The Second Summer Of Love`s ecstatic wave hit its high watermark, and crashed. Leaving me, and the people I knew, penniless, stranded, with only the biker boots and leather strides we stood up in, users, addicts, and chump-change dealers. Breakdowns, ODs, and suicides. Young lives derailed and cut short.
“People can be precious but they ain`t for keeping.”
70 kilos, amigo, and I`m gonna get that inked somewhere else.
You can purchase Primal Scream`s Demodelica here.
**The Andrew Weatherall Remix of Shine Like Stars will be released as a standalone 12, on Record Store Day 2022. The seven minute version of the song, that Jon Savage mentions in his sleeve notes, does appear on Demodelica, as the slightly edited Eden Studios Demo.