Primal Scream: Maximum Rock ‘N’ Roll, The Singles Volumes 1 and 2 – album review and interview
Primal Scream: Maximum Rock ‘N’ Roll – the Singles Volume 1 & 2 (CMG)
2X Double vinyl & CD
Released May 24th 2019
Career-spanning set and near-as-dammit complete singles collection from Bobby Gillespie and co, showcasing the many musical twists and turns of an incredible and innovative band and covering 30 years across four discs, starting with the scene-defying Velocity Girl and concluding with the singles from their last album Chaosmosis. Louder Than War also caught up with Primal Scream’s longstanding guitarist and co-songwriter Andrew Innes for a quick chat.
Kicking off with their 2nd Creation Records single, Velocity Girl (which was actually a B-side, but got more love than its A-side, Crystal Crescent), Maximum Rock & Roll gathers the band’s almost entire singles collection from 1986 to 2016 across 4 discs on 2 double albums: volume 1 (1986-2000) and volume 2 (2000-2016). Sadly not included is their Creation Records debut, 1985’s gorgeously jangly All Fall Down, but it’s actually good to see that the rest of their pre-Screamadelica singles are here, and not completely overlooked as on their previous compilation Dirty Hits. It’s probably fair to say most of their audience don’t even know the band existed before Screamadelica, but the fans who knew and loved them before that album swear that’s when they made their best records. They’ve always been an odd band in that way: so hard to define, dividing critics and fans through the years.
So… what’s with the title then? “Oh, wait a minute… Higher Than The Sun? That’s hardly rock & roll!” Hold your horses, Smarty Pants! That word “rock & roll” has always been one of Bobby Gillespie’s mission statements – that and “punk rock”. Neither of those terms are strictly limited to musical genres, and say a whole lot more about attitude and swagger: qualities this band have always had in abundance. I’d also add “psychedelic” into the blend, again not as a genre but as an indicator of Primal Scream’s spirit of open-mindedness.
I’m assuming everybody who’s reading this already knows about Screamadelica “bridging the gap between rock and rave” yada yada. And as for their pre-fame achievements, ladies and gentlemen of a certain age who lived through the C86 thing will obviously know that Primal Scream’s Velocity Girl was the flag-ship of the NME compilation of that name, which defined that era. Oh, and they…or rather “he” (Bobby) just made a video for it, after 33 years, but sadly not featuring any of the other band members from the line-up who played on it apart from himself. It would have been great to have at least included some stills, live footage or band shots from their classic ’86 line-up. Oh well. Edie Sedgwick is in it though, and the song is about her. Here it is, in its one minute 22 second glory:
I’m actually pleasantly surprised that they’ve included Velocity Girl here. Despite it being an underground anthem, the band seemed to have disowned it for years, along with their other earlier singles, before Loaded shot them into superstardom. What came next saw the band tighten up their Byrds-influenced sound, keeping with the ‘60s sensibilities of the first two singles, but with a warmer/more produced sound, for their major label debut Sonic Flower Groove. This album saw the first major change in the band, with most of its original line-up quitting during and after its recording. Enter label-mates Dave Morgan (The Weather Prophets/The Loft) on drums and Martin Duffy (Felt) on keyboards. Duffy eventually joined as a fixed member, playing on every Primal Scream LP thereafter, whilst Morgan would resume his Weather Prophets activities and expand his incredible drumming CV, which to date includes Vic Godard & Subway Sect, ATV and Kevin Rowland. Exit the super-cool and iconic tambourine player, Martin St John, original drummer Tom McGurk and second guitarist, Stuart May. Both singles from that record are pure fucking gold, and thankfully included here: Gentle Tuesday and Imperial (featuring Frank Sweeney of the June Brides and currently Magic City Trio on viola).
Sonic Flower Groove also saw Creation Records buddy Andrew Innes from The Revolving Paint Dream drafted in on second guitar, and he has remained in the band ever since, overseeing their musical direction, without being bothered about the limelight. After its release, Bobby’s songwriting partner and the Primals’ original guitarist Jim Beattie also quit, and Robert “Throb” Young then switched over from bass to lead guitar. He remained in the band up to and including their 8th LP, 2006’s Riot City Blues, after which he parted. Our dreams of his return were shattered and our hearts broken when he sadly passed away in 2014, aged 49. RIP Throb, you rock & roll God. But before all that, Young became a key focus of the band. His striking looks and fantastic stage persona made him the quintessential rock & roll guitar player, not to mention his funky rock & roll guitar chops, and it all started with the second/self-titled album. Oh, “that” album – the one that was largely misunderstood at the time, and from which came I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have, which was remixed into Loaded, lifting them out of the indie scene and into the national charts, changing their lives for ever. Primal Scream (the band and the LP) didn’t get the credit they/it deserved at the time. Check the album’s first single, 1989’s Ivy Ivy Ivy: a surge of power-pop energy, keeping with Bobby’s sweetly-sung melodies of before, but this time adding a shot of New York Dolls and MC5, with long hair and leather kecks ahoy. I simply don’t get the people who didn’t get this phase of the band. It was a truly exciting time, visually, musically, the lot.
It seems that Primal Scream have always had as many critics as fans, with a lot of misconceptions and cliched put-downs that have followed them around for decades. “Loaded wasn’t their own work: it was all Andrew Weatherall.”. Bollocks. Firstly, if you actually listen to the record, you will hear several guitar parts, a bass guitar, piano and organ, all played by Andrew Innes, Robert Young and Martin Duffy: members of Primal Scream. Yeah, Weatherall obviously shook the track up and remixed it from its previous state, which brings me on to my second point. Before Loaded, Weatherall had never made a record before in his life. Hardly a safe bet for allegedly “cashing in” on the dance thing of the early ’90s. And as legend has it, after his first draft of the track, Andrew Innes encouraged him to go back to the studio and try again: “fuckin’ destroy it!” So it’s hardly the same as what Trevor Horn did with Frankie Goes to Hollywood, for fuck’s sake. And here’s another thing: many great bands have made their finest work through collaboration. Weatherall informed much of Screamadelica, but not all of it. The Orb produced Higher Than the Sun, and Jimmy Miller produced Movin’ On Up (both included here, of course). And the decision to use Weatherall’s remix of Come Together rather than the vocal version featuring Bobby’s vocals and the band, came from Gillespie and Innes.
I don’t want to turn this review into a history lesson or a rant (too late…). And rather than a track-by-track haul through Maximum Rock & Roll, let’s just say that every fan will have their own favourite Primal Scream single, album or period: this is after all a band that has consistently changed, bringing different ideas to the table. For a lot of us it’s got to be the Vanishing Point album, which spawned the terrific Burning Wheel, a dark psychedelic gem with nightmarish washes of sound, throbbing Beatlesque bass-line (played by session player Marco Nelson) put to a hammering hypnotic hip-hop rhythm, over which Bobby sings some of his most troubled lyrics: “Through my bleeding eyes, I’m filthy fly, I crawl with insects, I’m anesthetized, I’m demonised, caught in a vortex…” Shame this compilation doesn’t include Vanishing Point’s last single release, If They Move Kill Em: a bass heavy instrumental, far less clean and much more on a musically claustrophobic vibe than Loaded a few years before. A kind of Loaded for the post-come-down generation.
Things got darker for the band, and the album reflects that. It’s a great psychedelic statement (not in the retro sense), which saw them dabbling with a variety of different styles and textures to create a truly remarkable record. Then came Creation Records’ swansong, XTRMNTR (or Exterminator), which saw the Primals take a strong political stance, delivered in an electro-punk style, best example being the single Swastika Eyes – one of this collection’s many highlights. Lord knows this record is even more relevant now, in these twattish times, when stupidity and right-wing liars and parasites are applauded. And without making too much of a point of it, fortunately Bobby’s sound political perspective hasn’t changed one bit. He’s still one of the good guys, unlike far right supporter Morrissey.
Miss Lucifer and Autobahn 66 from the next album, Evil Heat see the band continuing on the road of electronica. In 2006, Country Girl saw them return to the top 5 and gave them another anthemic song for their live sets. They certainly got their creative edge back after taking some time out after the next phase, the Beautiful Future album, (from which Can’t Go Back is included). In 2013, the single 2013 from More Light showed the way forward after the Stone Roses’ Mani departed to go back to his old band. And It’s Alright, It’s OK is almost Movin’ On Up part 2. More Light and the most recent album, Chaosmosis both show a return to their psychedelic roots with some clever and unusual arrangements to boot, and the experimentation/adventures with sound continue. Where the Light Gets In, the electro-pop single pulled from the latter and duet with Sky Ferreira shows a fresh-sounding Primal Scream, sounding eager and relevant as ever in 2016, some 31 years after their Creation debut.
Love ’em or hate ’em (and I love ’em) it’s impossible to ignore the fact that this is a band that’s always moved forwards, trying different approaches, mixing styles and techniques, being inspired by their phenomenally eclectic record collection to create new music throughout the decades. And it’s always been on THEIR own terms, not dictated by what’s going on around them. Take the massive success of Screamadelica, and the impact of its five singles (all included here). It would have been the safe bet to do it again and stick to the same format, but instead they took to the rock & roll road again, looked towards country-soul and funk to give us Give Out But Don’t Give Up. And check out last year’s fantastic Original Memphis Recordings, the first version of that record, which remained unreleased until 2018. And in the middle of the dire Britpop yawn-fest, their first single release after 3 years was Kowalski, probably the most radio-unfriendly and uneasy-listening choice for a single ever, and it strangely charted in the top 10.
Maximum Rock ‘N’ Roll, across its 2 volumes and 4 discs, is a true representation of an incredible and innovative band who have set standards for others over the years, as well as giving this here writer a fucking awesome soundtrack for his lifetime. Dig.
We caught up with Primal Scream’s longstanding guitarist, Bobby’s co-writer and man behind the music, Andrew Innes for a quick chat.
Maximum Rock & Roll is a very musically diverse selection of singles, but if you were to pick just one track, even if it was at random- what would your choice be and what makes it special?
Andrew: Higher Than The Sun, because I thought it was the first record I had ever made that was totally original and modern, and it stood alongside all the records I loved from the past. When we did it, I remember at the time thinking: “this is good…this is as good as anything”.
You joined Primal Scream as the band was going through a major change. What are your memories of the Sonic Flower Groove sessions?
Mainly miserable, they had a vision but not the ability to realise it. I have never been to a residential studio in the countryside since. I fully understand what Mani went through with The Second Coming! The highlight was doing Imperial in Abbey Road Studio 2 with Clive Langer.
In ’97, when you released Kowalski as a single, it was a brave move as it was your first official single for 3 years (apart from the Primal Scream/On-U Sound/Irvine Welsh collaboration the previous year). Was it a deliberate “fuck you” in the face of the Britpop of the times? Were you surprised when it got in the top 10?
I wish it had been a deliberate move. It was a result of our experimenting, we had just got our own studio and were locked away making all the crazy sounds that were in our heads a reality. It was the start of a really productive period for us. I think we were more likely oblivious to Britpop, which I always thought was a bit reactionary. I was proud to see Kowalski go top 10. It would be crazy to release that as a single now. When they tried to make the sheet music, it came back as ‘No chords and no melody’, I’m very proud of that.
According to Jeff Barrett (Heavenly Recordings and former Creation publicist) you had as much of a part in shaping up Loaded as Weatherall. Would you say that was true?
Jeff Barrett was always the King of getting me good publicity and I love him to this day for that!
What’s next for Primal Scream in terms of recorded output?
Make music, get Loaded ,have a good time, no way baby, lets go!
Pre-order Maximum Rock ‘N’ Roll from their Official Website and check out upcoming live dates.
Words by Arash Torabi. More writing by Arash can be found at his Louder Than War author’s archive.