When I bought the remastered 2CD version of Screamadelica on Monday (which comes packaged with the Dixie Narco EP), it was the fourth time that I’d handed money over for Primal Scream’s finest moment. I first bought it on regular CD in the mid 90s, aged about 15 or 16. I still have this copy, and it’s served me so well over the last 15+ years, and still sounds so good, that I was reticent to hand over cash for the new version. I wish I could remember where I got it from, and exactly when, but I can’t.
I can remember the second time I bought Screamadelica vividly, though: in early 1998, just after passing my driving test, I found it on cassette (yes!) for £1 in Woolworths in Dawlish, and bought it to keep in the car (sadly I have no idea where this is now, having not had a cassette deck in a car or anywhere else for at least five years).
Maybe a year or two later I found it on double-gatefold vinyl for £7 in Northampton’s Spinadisc record shop, on the high street. I was at University and had just bought my first proper hi-fi, which included a record player. I snapped up Screamadelica, Stand! by Sly & The Family Stone, and What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye for £7 each.
I think I first heard about Screamadelica from a book in the school library, which seems like a strange place to find out about legendary drug-fueled records, which I discovered while I was in the fifth form. It was something like “The Virgin Guide to Alternative Rock and Indie”, or similar, and I read it ravenously during revision periods (it was better than the prescribed textbooks) and lunchtimes. It was from this tome that I first of albums like Astral Weeks (mentioned in the blurb for A Storm In Heaven by The Verve), and probably dozens of others I’ve since come to know and love.
But it was Primal Scream’s entry, and the blurb for Screamadelica in particular, that excited me most. The idea of this dirty, leather-jacket-clad bunch of rock ‘n’ rollers teaming up with dance music gurus and producing a record that evolved indie or rock or whatever you want to call it into this blissed-out, psychedelic, utopic dance groove seemed like the most enticing thing in the world. I’ve never taken hallucinogens or stimulants (or pretty much any other illegal substance of any kind, to be honest), and the promise of music like this meant I didn’t need to; I was convinced that just by listening to it with an open enough mind I could appreciate the sensations, the euphoria, that others needed narcotics and adrenaline and soundsystems to appreciate. Whether I ever managed this or not is up for debate…
Screamadelica was, along with Björk and Orbital, my gateway drug away from the guitars-and-only-guitars stuff that most of my friends were listening to. I’ve had phases in the last 15 or 16 years when I’ve not listened to it much at all, and when I’ve thought it had aged poorly, dated, and seemed like an early 90s relic rather than the futurist amalgam / evolution it was intended as. But revisiting it in the form of the new remaster (which sounds very good to my ears off a few casual listens – I’ve not compared it directly with my original CD release though), it’s risen back above XTRMNTR in my estimation as Primal Scream’s finest moment.
The two sit well together, XTRMNTR as a noughties inversion of Screamadelica (each features a remixed version of a song from the previous, less successful album, as well as two versions of the same single, the latter take a bone-shaking remix in each case). XTRMNTR foreshadows the bleakness of a decade that was typified by decadent consumerism and an open-ended war on terror, while Screamdelica echoed acid house’s second summer of love and the wide-open potential of the 90s. The greatness of both records is due in no small part to the fact that they’re essentially made by people other than Bobby Gillespie; Weatherall’s influence on Screamadelica cannot be overstated, and XTRMNTR is as much a Kevin Shields / DFA / Chemical Brothers product as the work of the band that debuted with Sonic Flower Groove.
Primal Scream are an awesome band. Their wild oscillations in quality, their entire aesthetic and modus operandi, make them almost immune to normal critical discourse and canonisation. They are both spectacularly great and woefully awful, often within the same album (or even song), and they are both eminently enjoyable, enviable, and mockable. I still think they have about the best band name ever.
At this point I’m compelled to point out that, despite announcements to the contrary, Kevin Shields didn’t “remaster” the new version of Screamadelica; the sleeve proclaims that he merely “approved” the remaster (actually done by a chap called John Davis). So I’m also compelled to post this excellent excerpt from their main thread on ILX, by the awesome Tom D:
Bob: “Holl’ Shieldsy, whit’s the sketch wi’ this fuckin’ remaster here?”
Kev: “Oh ’tis a wonderful piece o’ work, Robert, me boy, yer man Davis has done a simply splendid job, splendid! Sure didn’t I tell him so meself.”
Bob: “I don’t gie a fuck aboot that, who the fuck is this cunt? Ah cannae jist hiv any auld punter in aff the street remixin’ ma fuckin’ CDs, man. Ah need som’dy ah can bum aboot efterwards, some cunt everybody’s heard ah.”
Kev: “Oh but you’re a terrible man for the name droppin’, Robert, terrible!”
Bob: “Could you no’ ha’ done it yerself, ya lazy Irish get? Ah mean, whit’s this “approved by” shite? Ah’ll gie ya a fuckin’ boot up the erse in a minute, see how ye approve o’ that!”
Kev: “But I need me rest, Robert, I’ve only got 10 years to make the next album, so I have.”
Bob: “Don’t gie us that, ya shitebag. Ah’m fuckin’ phonin’ Holger up, see if he cannae dae it… Holger? Get up Holger, ya dozy auld bastard…”
Holger: “… Herr Bobby, it is 10 o’clock of the hour, why are you phoning me at such ein ungottliche uhr already! Gott in himmel, Englander schwein!”
Bob: “Hey calm doon, auld yin, ah’m wahntin’ a favour, that’s a’. Listen, could you dae a cheeky wee remaster o’ fuckin’ Screamadelica?”
Bob: “Hullo? Hullo?”