Primal Scream’s 1994 album Give Out But Don’t Give Up is famously one of the most reviled records in recent history; a disjointed mess of a record cobbled together by a bunch of drug casualties, knocked into some kind of shape by multiple producers, and a huge retrograde step after 1991’s genre-bending classic Screamadelica.
But with hindsight, GOBDGU’s old-school Stones/Muscle Shoals stylings shouldn’t really have been any great surprise. The Scream’s first two albums – 1987’s jangly, psychedelia-lite Sonic Flower Groove and the leather-clad rawk posturing of 1989’s Primal Scream – were defiantly retro, utterly generic, and lacking even the tiniest glint of potential future greatness. It took the genius of Andy Wetherall to turn them into indie-dance revolutionaries, and you could argue that the only 100% ‘real’ Primals songs on Screamadelica are the Bo Diddley-goes-gospel ‘Movin’ On Up’ and the gorgeously soulful ‘Damaged’ – both songs that pointed firmly in the direction of GOBDGU.
The band’s stock was so high in 1993 that they could pretty much do whatever the hell they liked, and eventually GOBDGU cost Creation in the region of £400,000 (more even than My Bloody Valentine’s famously expensive Loveless), following aborted sessions in London and Memphis. McGee thought the Memphis sessions too flat and brought in the likes of George Drakoulias, Kenney Jones, George Clinton and Jim Dickinson to lick the recordings into shape, resulting in the sporadically brilliant but mostly garbled mess that was eventually released to huge critical disdain, despite an accompanying tour that found the band on absolutely top form.
The Memphis sessions had long been considered lost, until bassist Andrew Innes discovered the tapes in his basement a couple of years ago, and we can finally hear the album as the band intended it. And it is a very different beast indeed – a restrained, heartfelt, tearjerking tribute to the classic Muscle Shoals sound and very possibly the best album of their career. And it’s the ballads – which often felt like afterthoughts on the original release – that shine through here. ‘Everybody Needs Somebody’ for example is utterly sublime; ‘Sad & Blue’ transcends pastiche through the sheer intensity and commitment of all involved; ‘Jesus’ (subsequently retitled ‘I’ll Be There For You’) is an epic soul & gospel stew, Al Green meets Spiritualized; and the closing ‘Cry Myself Blind’, the best song never to appear on ‘Sticky Fingers’, is so perfect that you can only marvel at the amount of drugs being consumed by those involved that they thought it needed rerecording.
Listening to the rockier numbers, you can understand why Drakoulias (‘Rocks’, ‘Jailbird’) and Jones (‘Call On Me’) were brought in to sex them up – they’re simply too retro, and not punchy enough for 90s radio/TV. ‘Rocks’, a song that could start a party in a morgue, sounds flat here, whilst ‘Call On Me’ is plodding Jools Holland boogie-woogie, and simply crying out for the massive chorus of Jones’ later version. And yet they still fit perfectly into the context of the album; it’s just that, this time round, they’re the supporting act, rather than the stars.
No, it’s still not Screamadelica, but the Scream have never made the same album twice anyway, and would shortly return to the cutting edge with Vanishing Point and XTRMNTR. What it is is a truly lovely, near-perfect record, a document of a band attempting to scale the Olympus inhabited by their heroes and maybe not quite getting there but having one hell of a good time trying. One dreads to think of the horrors that probably lurk in Andrew Innes’ basement, but thankfully this isn’t one of them.