Death Rattle – The Stone Roses, Primal Scream, Oasis and the travesty of British Alternative Rock in the 90s
First out of the traps was Primal Scream. These indie underachievers had languished for years peddling standard issue jangle-pop to no avail (although they did manage to influence The Stone Roses and get on NME’s C86 tape). Either through luck or sheer desperation they hooked up with dance producer Andy Weatherall who delivered a radically altered, indeed almost entirely unrecognisable, remix of their song ‘I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have’. Rechristened ‘Loaded’, it soon joined the ranks of Happy Mondays’ ‘WFL’ (Vince Clarke mix) and the aforementioned ‘Fool’s Gold’ as the ultimate indie-disco floor filler.
The alternative music press went into overdrive, completely beside themselves with excitement, stressing the cultural relevance of music that made indie kids dance!!! Primal Scream were supposedly pioneers despite being, at a conservative estimate, the fourth band (behind New Order, The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays) to be declared innovators for combining indie music with dance beats. 1991 saw the release of the woefully-titled Screamadelica. To give you an indication of the esteem in which this album is still held I will quote you the opening salvo from allmusic’s album review:
“There’s no overestimating the importance of Screamadelica, the record that brought acid house, techno, and rave culture crashing into the British mainstream — an impact that rivaled that of Nirvana’s Nevermind …”
Never has an album been so undeserving of its legendary status. To begin with, the British mainstream had been more than exposed to acid house, techno and rave. Seminal Chicago house track ‘Jack Your Body’ by Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley was released in 1986 (yes, 1986) and went to Number One in the UK in early ’87; ‘We Call It Acieed’ by D Mob made it to Number Three in ’88. Let’s also not overlook the fact that the Pet Shop Boys had been bringing dance music to the masses since 1985 and had even covered House music classic ‘It’s Alright’ in ’88 (and went on to have a Top 10 hit with it in ’89).
To be honest, I could spend several paragraphs picking apart exactly what’s wrong with the allmusic review, but the disinformation contained in the above quote is repeated almost verbatim in most appraisals of Screamadelica. One look at the song titles reveals the breathtaking triteness of the whole enterprise: ‘Movin’ On Up’, ‘Don’t Fight It, Feel It’, ‘Come Together’, ‘Damaged’, ‘I’m Comin’ Down’, ‘Shine Like Stars’. Then there are the lyrics. Bobby Gillespie is perhaps the only man alive capable of making Noel Gallagher’s observations sound like poetry. What can you say about a person who follows up the line “What I got in my head you can’t, buy, steal or borrow” with “I believe in live, and let live. I believe you give, what you get”? Why would a person want to buy, steal or borrow such stomach-churning banality?
What saves Screamadelica from complete embarrassment is the music which most of the time can be credited to other sources. The Orb make ‘Higher Than the Sun’ sound blissful even when the words are an interest-free zone. Andy Weatherall enhances the majority of the album with the Beach Boys-esque ‘Inner Flight’ being something of a highlight mainly because we don’t get to hear Bobby Gillespie’s burned-out rock‘n’roll drivel. The two worst songs on the album are the Black-Crowes-on-a-bad-day ‘Movin’ On Up’ and ‘Damaged’ which take the art of mimicry to new levels of discomfort, with Primal Scream aping the strung-out sound and feel of the Stones circa 1972 to an embarrassingly exact degree (also throw in the fact that these tracks were produced by Jimmy Miller, who also produced Exile On Main Street). Exact minus the danger, the glory, and the point, that is.
Basking in the glow of success at last, the band followed up Screamadelica with Give Out But Don’t Give Up. Again, look in horror at these song titles: ‘Jailbird’, ‘Call On Me’, ‘Sad And Blue’, ‘I’ll Be There For You’!!! With the media now giving them attention Primal Scream did what they had always wanted to do – make a Rolling Stones album. It was bad beyond belief, reveling in the worst kind of lowest common denominator rock‘n’roll backwash imaginable. Also of note was their unbearable stupidity and Britpop approved thuggishness (one particular article on the band had them gleefully recalling a night of humiliating and physically intimidating Damon Albarn from Blur). Desperate to win back their innovator status, they swung back to electronic music, with Bobby Gillespie apparently convinced that whispering vaguely menacing lyrics about some person or thing would create a sinister atmosphere. I suppose if you like the idea of someone intoning dreadful incantations along the lines of “She’s got a nuclear reactor face … a nuclear reactor face” over and over again, and then perhaps throwing in something about bombs or explosions or maybe Nazis, then you’re in for a good time. Soon enough they made another bad Stones imitation album. Then back to dance. Repeat ad nauseum.