Stalwart Scottish act Primal Scream stormed London’s Olympia late last year to perform the classic 1991 album Screamadelica in its entirety. The trend of acts going back and revisiting a peak moment in their back catalogue has not yet become tiresome, although occasionally one wishes that someone would take a real risk––what would happen, say, if McCartney decided to roll out Pipes of Piece from end to end on his next tour?
I digress. The point is this: A cash-in is a cash-in is a cash-in.
But first, a bit of history: Released in 1991 Screamadelica served as a breakthrough for Primal Scream. The group’s 1987 debut Sonic Flower Groove and its successor, 1989’s self-titled affair, did little to set afire the critical or commercial world and so, in the face of adversity, the group did what many have done in such situations––they gambled virtually everything and emerged with a work that set the tone for their rest of their career and in doing so, launched themselves into the homes of a wider, more appreciative audience.
Informed by a confluence of house music and gospel (among other styles) Screamadelica became the group’s first major commercial success and won the boys from Glasgow a 1992 Mercury prize. Not bad. But 20 years on, Screamadelica doesn’t seem all that novel. Perhaps that’s because, as this performance highlights, the group doesn’t really write songs—they write hooks.
Talk about commercialism! The pattern establishes itself fairly early in the disc with “Movin’ On Up” and continues all the way through––verse-hook-hook-hook-hook and then a hook-hook-hook and then… you get the picture. There’s not much depth to that kind of writing, and while some acts can pull it off rather well in the live setting, Primal Scream is not some bands. The fellas are about as visually dynamic as Bill Wyman––coming off as a group of guys who’d rather be gazing down the necks of their guitars than into the eyes of the (considerable) audience gathered to worship at their feet.
Augmented by a gospel choir, a brass section, and films by Jim Lambie, the band is in danger of being overshadowed by the supporting cast. That’s too bad, because history suggests that there was something here, something, indeed, to write home about, something that made those in the UK so mad for Primal Scream.
A second set of material from earlier in the evening, simply titled the “Rock and Roll Set”, clocks in at 40 minutes and offers more of the same. Perhaps this is an indispensable gift for longtime fans, but for the casual one it’s not useful in persuading us to dive headlong into Primal Scream madness. This package includes a CD containing the Screamadelica performance in its entirety and the Blu-ray edition features a documentary on the making of the classic album––perhaps a viewing of that might have persuaded this listener of the album’s full importance in a way that the DVD and CD could not.
Ah, well. File Under: The Yanks still don’t get it.
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