Thursday, September 30th, 2021
Primal Scream – Reflecting on the 30th Anniversary of “Screamadelica”
The Album First Came Out on September 23, 1991
Sep 30, 2021
By Austin Saalman
For years, eclectic Scottish rock outfit Primal Scream had been making waves as a worthwhile indie group. After taking a hard left turn and unleashing their monumental whirlwind psychedelia-infused amalgam of indie, alt rock, and trip hop, they altered the course of modern music as listeners knew it.
Released in the U.K. on 23 September 1991, Screamadelica, the group’s monumental third album, mesmerized audiences while earning a spot at No. 8 on the U.K. Albums Chart and receiving the first Mercury Prize by the British Phonographic Industry the following year, eventually selling over 300 million copies and certifying platinum. The widespread critical acclaim the group received in Europe was mirrored by that of critics in the U.S., where the popular single “Movin’ on Up” charted at No. 2 on the Billboard Modern Rock Track charts.
For the band itself, Screamadelica would yield results which could only be defined as staggering and sublime in its awe-inspiring intimacy and freewheeling pretentiousness, all of which, somehow, managed to contribute to the album’s undeniable charm. Stylistically undefinable, its raw intensity and intricacy masquerading as impulsivity did more for the decade’s neo-psychedelic movement than any major release to follow.
With delivery half slurred and half belted, frontman Bobby Gillespie is built for such an outing, injecting the blisteringly strung-out soundscape with a frost of sensual extraterrestrial detachment, as on the grinding “Higher Than the Sun” and the harmonious sunshine anthem “Come Together.”
Of course, more often than not, Screamadelica’s vastly diverse sonic textures take presidence over Gillespie’s vocals, as demonstrated on the group’s noisy cover of The 13th Floor Elevators’ 1967 psychedelic classic “Slip Inside This House,” which also, samples Sly & The Family Stone’s “Sex Machine” in all its lusty glory. The presence of The 13th Floor Elevators’ cult icon frontman Roky Erickson feels necessary, as does the audio sample from the 1966 Peter Fonda biker film The Wild Angels on the manic epic “Loaded.”
The layers of love and terror on “Loaded” are mind-bending, a product of the group’s fascination with LSD and MDMA at the time. This becomes strikingly evident with the underlying funk groove, shock-to-the-system electric guitar riffs, gospel harmonies, horn section, and reverberating repetition of the aforementioned audio sample, declaring, “We wanna be free to do what we wanna do!” “Loaded” is a convoluted, invigorating, humorous, sexy, soulful, and undeniably trippy achievement in neo-psychedelic rock.
In contrast, Screamadelica’s second masterpiece “Damaged” dials the manic intensity down to a mellowed-out ’60s folk pop ballad, resulting in the summery haze of Gillespie’s shining moment as a vocalist. Perhaps the track most faithful to the group’s self-proclaimed influences, such as Pet Sounds, “Damaged” also seems the most accessible to uninitiated listeners. Here, Gillespie abandons the album’s general atmosphere of druggy ambiguity to deliver emotive lines of introspection, singing, “People may be precious/But they ain’t for keeping/I got too possessive/But souls ain’t for stealing.” An exquisite display of dreamy romantic contemplation, “Damaged” is undoubtedly the album’s quiet masterwork.
The deep morning-after headache of “I’m Coming Down” can be considered Screamadelica’s “Us and Them,” incorporating spacey vocals and a similarly wailing saxophone—the perfect contrast to the pristine buzz of “Loaded” and the delirious daydream of “Damaged.” Subsequently, “Higher Than the Sun (A Dub Symphony in Two Parts)” returns the listener to the greatest euphoric peak, playing like an acid-ridden neoclassical out-of-body experience. Primal Scream’s evolved talent as composers is especially evident here, successfully delivering a stunning rush of sonic experimentation, which eases into the cosmic whimsy of closing track “Shine Like Stars.”
In the subsequent 30 years since its initial release, Primal Scream’s Screamadelica has managed to land on multiple “Greatest Albums” lists, including at #437 on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time.” The group went on to produce a number of worthwhile recordings, though failing consistently to touch the sun as they did three decades ago.
Even now, Screamadelica remains a solidly fascinating release, difficult to imitate, while continuing to defy genre and era more than many other classic albums. For any music listener, it is certainly worth the attention, if only to experience what is undoubtedly one of the weirdest, most whacked-out moments in musical history.