Monday, 15 August 2011

Primal Scream - Screamadelica


1991 was a year for establishing the popularity for genres that would last way past the expiration of the 20th century, for completely different reasons. In September we had Nirvana's Nevermind, establishing Grunge's dominance in record sales at the time. In November, we had Loveless by My Bloody Valentine - not as successful commercially, but gaining a considerable amount of universal acclaim it cemented its place as possibly the original benchmark for what is now shoegaze.

In-between these two dates, in mid October, a lesser-known Scottish band - led by former Jesus & The Mary Chain drummer Bobby Gillespie - released their third album to the World. The album had, to some people maybe, a less-than-creative name. The name was Screamadelica, the album's cover comprising solely of a yellow and blue splotch with eyes against a red background. Certainly not a naked baby in a swimming pool nor a heavily blurred close-up of a guitar neck, but a strange design for a rock band's third album nonetheless.

But it's the opening lyrics - or rather, spoken words - of the track Loaded that really summarize the feel and empathetic attitude in this album: 'Just what is it that you want to do?/We wanna be free...we wanna be free to do whatever we want to.' This is an album truly encompassing the concept of freedom and the will to let things take their course.

The album's opener 'Movin' On Up' begins on a high, strumming guitars and soft piano chords allow Gillespie's vocals to elevate and float across the room - the chorus adding to rather than taking away from this ascension; backing choir crying out the lines: "I'm movin' on up now/getting out of the darkness." fuelling the track's optimistic gaiety, short-string riffs and outcries by the choir once more leading the track into its penultimate stages.

It's not until track 4 do we hear Gillespie sing once more - 'Slip Inside This House' (a cover of the 13th Floor Elevators 1967 song) is sang by bassist Robert Young and 'Don't Fight It, Feel It' incorporating Denise Johnson for its vocal sections. It's these two songs that begin to demonstrate the Scream's expansion into what would become the 'acid house' sound. Slip Inside This House - a steady tremble of percussion and bass - breaks the band away from its previous rock sound of recognizable guitars and drums. The latter, meanwhile, reinvents the band's range and recognizes them truly as multi-genre experimenters. 'Don't Fight It, Feel It' provides a thumping beat of drums, synths buzzing and beating in sync while a calling of whistles accompany Johnson's harmonic voice and singing. This is where the true expanse of Screamadelica's reach is seen - a rock-orientated rhythm centred for an acid house scene you would undoubtedly hear more in the claustrophobic spaces of night clubs and rave culture. Is this then a rock song...or a dance track? The answer is both. Just as the pattern of drums begin to waver into repetition in comes the guitar once more. Rock in origin though through its execution sounds as if it's straight from a casio sampler for some up-and-coming hip-hop star. And then the beat begins again. It's a full-on see-saw between vertically-jumping beats and horizontally-swooning vocals.

The same is executed once more - to amazing feats - in the album's stand-out 10-minute colossus that is 'Come Together', echoey horns and almost clumsy drum patterns leading way to a harmonic call of gospel voices proclaiming us to: 'COME TOGETHER AS ONE!' while a sample of a speech by Jesse Jackson leads us as if in some liberating act of self-release. The composition is simple and easy to imitate, no doubt, but its execution and pin-point precision in tone and purpose (Jackson's speech note-worthy) counteracting against the thump of instrumentation gives the track an almost infinite-stretch for outlasting its designated track length.

And as we unravel ourselves from this unity of coming one, we are then given a further means of action. The action of getting 'Loaded'. For a track mixed and compiled from initial demos and film samples - the notoriously infamous use of a drum cymbal at every 4th bar - Loaded in itself is a fine example of uplifting blissfulness. True, one could argue it demonstrates that sense of ignorance and novice-esque in production, but it's these (potential) properties that make the track so worth-while - it doesn't attempt to be something it's not, but rather embraces its somewhat simple bare-bone structure and allows the music to waver and flitter its way across the space - Gillespie providing silky echoey vocals during the track's supposed bridge, a rough and jagged spike of guitar strumming muscling its way through too.

The second half of the album totally takes the formula constructed on the first half and turns it on its head, or rather inverts its pallette and provides with a far different view on the album's direction. 'Damaged' is a somewhat sweetening struggle of piano keys and strummed acoustics, all intertwined by Gillespie's delicate vocals. 'I'm Comin Down' though maintaining this melodic, almost downtempo, progression in reverse gives way to high-key synths and brass bars, a mixture of past influence yet revealing some kind of futuristic soundscape built on fumbling sillyness.

Screamadelica's closer, 'Shine Like Stars' is a truly synthesizer-driven track, brass drones and washes of ocean waves giving the song's pattern to flow almost mesmerizingly into obscurity. The rhythm calms its way into a steady fade-out of horns, Gillespie's vocals almost raising into the sky as if looking out to the distant skies, a future still awaiting discovery but certainly touched upon and even replicated.

It's this sudden clash of sound and the naturism of it that makes these 11 compositions stand out. Screamadelica, as a whole, is a multicolored kaleidoscopic spectrum of past, present and future influence - old-school blues rock and jazz meeting feel-good alternate rock meeting next-generation house beats and awe-inspiring synth loops. It's this meet-up that amplifies the album's sound into a time-breaching genre-busting call for everything, sound. Screamadelica would only climb as high as number 8 in the UK charts, but would cement its place as one of the most important and most popular albums of the 1990's, fueling rock's natured expansion from simple guitar and drum arrangements like many an album before it. Screamadelica is a call to the past and an affirmative nod to the future, a true centre-point for what can be achieved in modern-day musical production.
~Jordan

9.9

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