Primal Scream - Riot Goin' On

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Primal Scream - There's A Riot Goin' On

'If you ever thought the Rolling Stones would have been improved by being a bit more like the New York Dolls, this is for you.' wrote the Evening Standard about 'Riot City Blues', Primal Scream's stonking ninth album.

If we're celebrating the New York Dolls, why not also home in on one of the few groups who they've not only influenced but have managed to carry the torch? The Dolls might be hot again right now but in the mid-90s when I was touring the world as Primal Scream's DJ, few gave a shit. Every night I'd try and squeeze a Dolls song into the pre-Scream warmup. 'Personality Crisis' or 'Looking for A Kiss' just before the Pistols-Clash punk-fest usually worked a treat.

The same kind of ramshackle gang mentality which glued together the Dolls for five years has run rampant in Primal Scream for over 20. There's also been a fair bit of excess, but the untamed spirit of rock & roll music fired the Dolls in the beginning and does so with the Scream. You only have to watch the recent gigs and TV appearances. They're on fire. Not only straining at the leash but pulling it to shreds.

It's just coincidence that, in the same summer the New York Dolls release their first new album in 32 years, Primal Scream fire out 'Riot City Blues'. The album's inspired by the Dolls, amongst others - there's even a rabble-rousing missile called 'Dolls'. Both albums display a love of rock & roll's roots and the blues. Most importantly, they're stamped with the personalities of their creators. Loud and proud. Both albums tower over the pale retreads that pose as rock & roll in 2006. Now some old hands have come along to show how it's done, packing more balls, energy and sheer charisma than the lot of 'em. Bobby recently popped up in Radio One's Dolls documentary, calling them the greatest group of all time, also the sexiest.

The rise of Primal Scream to the position of the UK's wildest rock & roll gang has been well-documented. They are the closest thing we have to the original punk rock ethos, carrying the same restless thirst for progression which distinguished the ever-changing Clash and defiant rebel Lydon. That's the main thing which drew me to Primal Scream in the first place. I'd just returned from the US after five years of Big Apple reality and 'Loaded' had already kick-started the whole indie-acid house interface with the clarion call to debauchery that was Andrew Weatherall's remix. Having spent the 80s immersed in hip hop and black music, while never abandoning my love of the Stones, The Clash and Funkadelic, this unashamed hedonism and boundary-pushing creativity was just what the doctor ordered. The Scream were working with my old friend Dr Alex Paterson, who was just hitting big himself with the Orb, the project he'd started with my old flat-mate Youth. This led to Weatherall - still one of the greatest DJs of all time - who was redefining the remix. Of course, his maverick partnership with the Scream spawned 'Screamadelica', the cathartic embodiment of both acid house euphoria and post-ecstasy descent.

My hooking up with the Scream was a happy accident waiting to happen. The first major collision occurred in 1991 when I interviewed Bobby Gillespie on the eve of 'Screamadelica''s release, in a cafe next door to Creation Records' Hackney office. He was wearing a Generation X t-shirt and I was relieved to discover that he had been an avid reader of Zigzag while I was editor during the punk years. When in full flow, Bob is articulate, blazingly passionate and up there with Rotten when it comes to put-downs. His comments during this interview turned out to be a blueprint for Primal Scream's existence since day one and his own since childhood. The ever-recurring theme was how much great music had been made over the years, and how stupid it was for people to bracket themselves inside just one genre. How one gold pebble could start a trail to a whole gleaming mine. Bob and his group were indeed on a mission to get loaded and have a good time, doing what came naturally. If people picked up on it and it led them to seek out those initial influences then it was a bonus. The Scream didn't hop over musical barriers because they didn't see any in the first place. We kept coming back to the fact that it was sad, partly thanks to blinkered elements of the media, that many kids then getting into music didn't know about anything further back than last week's NME front cover. As Joe Strummer put it in 'White Man In Hammersmith Palais', "new groups are not concerned, with what there is to be learned."'

If you learn anything about the Primal Scream it's that everything they do is an organically-formed mirror of what they're into at that particular moment. Every time I've spoken to Bobby at length since that interview – and there have been many in tour buses or early hours hotel rooms - I want to go back and dig out the contents of my record collection. His passion is that contagious, and this belief in music has always been his essence and the one that drives Primal Scream, no matter what temporary diversions come into play. Bob's words that day are the closest you'll get to the heart and soul of Primal Scream. Honesty and passion never date.

'I'm not trying to say I'm special, but I've always loved things other people thought were crass, gross or unlovable. When I first saw a picture of Johnny Rotten I was transfixed. When everyone at school was listening to progressive rock, I was listening to Marc Bolan and the Clash. I've always thought I had a different way of seeing things and that I would one day experience that. I'd look at the Pistols and The Clash and wish I was involved in something like that.

'When I was young my parents would play the Stones, the Beatles, soul, Motown. Even if you're only seven years of age and hearing Martha Reeves, the Temptations and the Four Tops at the same time as the Beatles, Stones and Dylan, you can't help but soak it up. They used to play a lot of Ray Charles. In the seventies when I was growing up you'd hear T. Rex, the O'Jays, Thin Lizzy but also something like Ann Peebles' "I Can't Stand The Rain". All these records were hits. I never differentiated. I'd never think, "That's rock" or "That's soul" or "That's disco". They were just good records to me. I've never tried to box music. People limit themselves to listening to a certain style of music at the expense of others. We do have a lot of influences and we use them in making different styles of records. Not conscious. These things are subconscious. That's the thing. I just don't believe in limiting yourself.

'It's taken us three years to get here [with this album]. You look at the Stones, Beatles, Bolan and Bowie. They made great records but it took 'em a long time to get there. Bowie was doing "The Laughing Gnome", wasn't he? The first Stones album sounds like Arthur Alexander, Chuck all the way, Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters. These bands took years to develop their own style and create their own vision. It's the same for us but you find in this country people get reviewed in the music press before they've made a record. A lot of the time too much is expected of young bands. There's very few bands that really do it on their first two albums. The New York Dolls, Stooges, Pistols, Clash - somehow they managed to do it. The first Ramones LP. Wherever did it come from? It's mad!'

We talked about soul music, which would reach its full flowering as a Scream influence in the next album, the underated 'Give Out But Don't Give Up'. The success of 'Screamadelica' gave the scream the clout to fulfill a dream by going to Memphis to record at Muscle Shoals studios with Tom Dowd producing and the studio's legendary horns and rhythm section. When I wrote my Primal’s book, I unashamedly used it as a platform to tell the world about great soul singers like James Carr and O.V. Wright.

'One thing that separates our band from the other bands is that we do listen to a lot of soul music. Black music. There's a blues inflection in our music which is missing in most of the whitre bands. We use blues notes and feelings. It's just a natural thing. We're not gonna sit down and try and sound like John Lee Hooker, because we can never be that. We've got to be ourselves. You listen to a song like "I'm Coming Down" and it's a blues track. "Damaged" is a blues track. I think that "Higher Than the Sun" is a blues track as well but it's a different kind of blues. It's our blues.'

Indeed, the new album features a track called 'We're Gonna Boogie', which is a tribute to Hooker. The Scream take his patent stomp boogie and use it as a springboard on which to kick off another two-fingered celebration. Everything they do, whether a sonic air-raid on 'Xtrmntr' or the gentlest ballad on any of the albums, is shot full of soul. Their soul. Bob?

'The term "soul music" often means Otis Redding but Otis Redding was not that good a singer anyway. James Carr is a much better singer, I think. To me, I've always felt that Iggy and the Stooges were as soulful as anybody. I think applying terms to music's a mad thing anyway because certain records leave you speechless and you just look at each other and it gives you a great rush...Certain records go beyond words and leave you speechless. You can't even speak about them because it gives you such a great rush.

'I had to do list in Melody Maker of my top ten records. I had Augustus Pablo, 'The World Is A Ghetto' by War, 'There's No Place Like America Today' by Curtis Mayfield, 'Africa' by John Coltrane...so there's four great albums that someone who's eighteen that likes Primal Scream might come across one day and think they're worth checking out. If they dig the Scream stuff they might get into that stuff. That's how I got into it - through reading interviews with bands that I liked. I got into reggae through the Pistols and The Clash. Lydon would mention people like Dr Aliumantado, Tim Buckley, Can and Captain Beefheart and me and my mates would go out and search for those people, buy something like 'Best Dressed Chicken In Town' by Dr Alamantado or 'African Dub Chapter Three' by Joe Gibbs and the Professionals. We started to freak out because there's so much music and no fuckin' time to listen to it. Your collection getting massive, then listening to someone like you and you're talking about this stuff and you think, "I've got to go out and get this". It's overload!

'You could only taken the punk thing so far. You had to try and listen to new things. You're talking about the influence of PiL. "Death Disco" had a reggae bassline, disco drumming, "Swan lake" on the guitar then Lydon singing lyrics about his mother dying. When was "Swan Lake"? About the sixteenth or seventeenth century? It's the most bizarre mix up. It's quite inspirational really.

'Me and my friend used to play along to PiL records. Wobble would sit and listen to reggae bass-lines and that's how he learned to play bass and we would learn by listening to Wobble bass-lines, which in turn got us into reggae. The first couple of bass-lines I learned were "Metal Box" bass-lines. "Albatross", "Public Image", "Death Disco" and then some Joy Division ones - Peter Hook. They were inspirational as well. And then "Good Times" by Chic. We were in this guy's bedroom and we recorded a version of "Good Times". So he was playing the bass and tried to get a Jah Wobble sound and we had the "Metal Box" and used it as a drum.'

Bobby talked about 'Screamadelica', the album they'd just finished which would shortly swivel the world. Typically, he bigged up the collaborators. 'There's a lot of good ideas and a lot of good attitudes. The main thing with the people involved is the fact that they don't see any barriers. People go on about breaking down barriers but us and Wobble and the Orb don't see any. We're digging everything. It's really mixed. It's just other people who limit themselves to listening to a certain style of music. Sometimes we think we're wrong but we do have a lot of influences and we're not afraid to show them and make differeent styles of records. I think listening to just one style of music is the pits. You get people like jazz snobs who listen to nothing but jazz. There's jazz influences on this LP, gospel influences, R&B influences, reggae influences, psychedelic influences, but I think we've retained our identity throughout the whole album.'

The album's big hedonist's anthem 'Don't Fight It Feel It' with its refrain of 'Ramma Lamma Lamma Far Far Far, gonna get high until the day I die' was notable for the absence of Bobby, who handed over vocal duties to Denise Johnson. He does the same on the new album with the ballad, 'Sometimes I Get So Lonely', by handing the gorgeous chorus over to the three-piece girls who, for now, are augmenting the Scream's sounds. He's modest like that.

'Aye, our whole thing is we just want to make beautiful music. Whatever it takes to do that, we'll do it, by any means necessary. We're not like other bands.'

His parting shot sets out the Scream’s stall: 'I've got this theory about group's being gangs. I think that's part of what appeals about our band. Some kid going, "I wish I could be up with them, they're having such a good time". None of those groups today seem to be like that. They're not the groups I'd like to hang out with. They ain't got the balls. They don't rock and they don't feel rock either. They're not degenerate, basically. Bands should be degenerate. It's like the Clash were a gang, or Motorhead. We need that. "Speed isn't a drug, speed's food". That's the attitude. I love that.'

In the 15 years since Bobby uttered those words, he hasn't gone back or changed one iota. Every Scream album since 'Screamadelica' has ploughed a different furrow. The stoned soul picnic of 'Give Out' was widely considered to be the comedown after the ecstasy party but was more like a gentle soul massage [apart from all-time anthem 'Rocks', the sleazed-up raunch of 'Jailbird or the intergalactic P-Funk of 'Funky Stuff']. 'Vanishing Point' was the sound of a band regrouping, gaining the proverbial shot in the ass from ex-Stone Roses bass player Mani, concocting intoxicating instrumentals and still capable of delivering beautiful ballads like 'Star'. Boby called that 'cinematic, opiated, moody music'. It came with a dub album, 'Echodek'. The crazed 'Xtrmntr' lashed at society's decay and whipped up the greatest guitar onslaught since the Stooges. Just 'Kill All Hippies' and 'Swastika Eyes' alone were enough to dispel all notions of peace and love with a speed-fuelled sonic blast that was nothing short of terrifying. Bobby said, 'it was about the effects of drugs, on the culture and what it had done to me and my friends.', as well as 'pre-empoting the way things were gonna go' with terrorism. 'Evil Heat' branched out into motornik, West Coast rock, the blues and electro, led by the jackhammer assault of 'Miss Lucifer'. With Weatherall returning on tracks like 'Autobahn 66', they were still striking into their mine of influences with fantastic results.

After that first meeting with Bobby, I started hanging out and working with the Scream, touring for a couple of years as their DJ, turning in a couple of remixes ['Rocks' and 'Jailbird], having the best time ever until my indulgences got the better of me around the turn of the deacde. Didn't see them quite so much but they're still family. I wrote a book about them called ‘The Scream: The Music, Myths & Misbehaviour Of Primal Scream’, so it's all in there.

After 'Evil Heat', the group enjoyed four years of fatherhood, gigging and, finally gave birth to 'Riot City Blues', the nearest thing they've recorded to a traditional rock album for nearly 20 years. After years of bold experimentation, they just want to kick some ass this time. Or, as Boby put it in Clash magazine, 'I think rock music is really conservative and most bands are not exciting or ferocious or aggressive or sexy. You can never pigeonhole us - ever...I like the fact that every Primal Scream record sounds different from the last one.'

For a change, the Scream rehearsed and wrote the songs before they went in the studio. Past albums have usually evolved from jams. The album was recorded from ten days playing live at Olympic Studios, famously the place where the Stones recorded their late 60s-early 70s classics and Mick Jones' studio of choice when asked where he'd like to produce a record for my Vice Creems in 1979! With Youth producing with a brief to capture the raw essence of the Scream's live onslaught, they went back to rock 'n' roll roots fired up by the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis, while early pre-punk influences like the Stones, Faces, Mott and New York Dolls rose to the surface, howling and swaggering.

After all the anger, paranoia and dizzbomb assaults of previous albums, 'Riot City Blues' is almost like a breath of fresh air with Primal Scream throwing a party to celebrate the fact that they're still alive and most definitely kicking. The playing is spot on and ballsy. It's rowdy and in your face. It's also got the biggest push of any Primal Scream album to date.

There was a time when the release of an album meant being very excited indeed. Rush to the record shop. Ask hopefully if it was in yet or spot the sleeve in the racks. Then you paid your money and got handed a big bag containing a big cardboard cover. It felt like booty which would give up its delights when you got home. You could read that sleeve after plonking the needle on the record and sit down for the first of hopefully many sessions, reveling in your new acquisition which might just live with you for the rest of your life. I say this because there are records on my shelves, such as the first Love album or the Stones' 'Beggars Banquet' which I bought nearly 40 years ago.

Now how many people now even know what a ten-track rock & roll album is? Not that they should, but if it went beyond 45 minutes you were considered to be on a par with Emerson, Lake & Palmer – or some other bunch of boring old tossers. Amidst all the reviews of 'Riot City Blues', few have remarked that the Scream have brought back the classic album format. If it was on vinyl it would be perfect.

Side One. Track One. The single, 'Country Girl' is an air-punching summer anthem with 'Complete Control'-style rush of an intro and the perfect touch of a Faces-style mandolin interlude. The single made number five and Top Of The Pops even relaxed their ban after the 'acid accident' of 1994 which meant some members of the group were flying around the lampshade in a Dublin hotel rather than over the Irish sea on a plane to Luton Airport.

'Nitty Gritty'. Criticism has been made of some of the lyrics being rock & roll cliches. At first, lines declaring 'you gotta shake some action, baby' might seem that way, but who cares as long as the euphoric grind is stoked further. Rock 'n' roll has always thrived on its war cries. The whole point of funk and rock 'n' roll was saying those right words at the right time to fire up the mood. Everyone from Can to the Stones have based songs around an 'Oh yeah' or 'Alright'. Or even opened up with 'I was born in crossfire hurricane'. As long as the backdrop is cooking and it's delivered the right way Bob could be going on about goat's thongs and it would be hopping. The mighty Throb's deadly bluesy embellishments sometimes sounded incongruous on the electronic drum stuff, but here they sound so at home and stoned immaculate. His low-slung inflections are total Keef. It's a shame that, after playing so brilliantly on the album, Throb isn't in the live band at the moment but he's just got something to sort out. The current live band is still lethal with Barrie Cadogan from Little Barrie standing in.

'Suicide Sally & Johnny Guitar' is Bobby's favourite track. The song deals with self-destruction. Fun at the time but, ultimately, a shallow pursuit which ends in tears. Lord knows the Scream are past masters. I've never seen any group have such a good time at their own expense. There's no message here. It's observation in classic rock 'n' roll style. Chuck Berry's story telling updated, if you like, but now with plastic surgery junkies and people shooting too much speed blowing their heads off. There's a great line about a priest choking on his rosary beads. Some like to say it's about Kate Moss and Pete Doherty. Whatever, Kate has always been big mates with the Scream and Bobby acted through that whole nasty intrusion with loyalty and discretion.

'When The Bomb Drops' is an epic tour-de-force, evoking a foreboding style of 60s psychedelic drone as heard on the Byrds' 'Eight Miles High' but pursuing its path of Eastern-tinged catharsis through a gamut of dramatically sinister episodes. Will Seargent from the Bunnymen is the man with the soaring guitar. 'Little Death' is a steamy slice of hallucinogenic voodoo coming on like a cross between the Doors and Dr John's ‘Nightripper’. All atmospheric guitar fragments and swampy efx. '99th Floor' sees another mutation of Bob Dylan's 'It's Alright Ma I'm Only Bleeding' riff - also ransacked by the Dolls on their 'Gimme Love And Turn On The Light' – put through a Yardbirds blender with Throb's blues-wailing harmonica and an impassioned vocal from Bobby. Pure R&B with extra white line fever.

'We're Gonna Boogie'. Take the piss if you want but, apart from the fact the word 'boogie' never phased Marc Bolan, this is actually a tribute to John Lee Hooker and his stomp groove. This one was produced at The Bunker, the Scream's Primrose Hill studio where all their albums have been germinated since 'Vanishing Point'. For the last ten years, Andrew Innes has been the mainstay here, learning the ropes and now finally striking out to produce a couple of songs on the album. They must have found a way of keeping out unwanted guests!

'Dolls [Sweet Rock And Roll]' - previously known as 'Dolls [Come Baby Let's Have A Good Time]' - is the New York rocker. The acoustic guitar strut recalls the Velvets' 'Sweet Jane' while the electric lead is sheer Johnny Thunders. Alison Mosshart from the Kills joins in for a nice bit of psychodrama halfway. 'Hell's Comin' Down' is the other Innes production and another rollicking good time. The lush backdrop is provided by his mandolin and Bad Seed Warren Ellis on violin, while the booting coda is clearly inspired by the Faces' roughhouse version of the Stones' 'It's All Over Now'.

The album closes with 'Sometimes I Feel So Lonely'. I'm a sucker for Scream ballads. This is gentle, stately and yearning as the backing singers take over the chorus. Southern soul meets Gram Parsons. Phwoar.

In the barrage of interviews accompanying the album's release, Bobby outlined the album's raison d'etre with lines like, 'We were just trying to write classic rock 'n' roll songs,' 'I think it's the sound of a band enjoying making music and having a ball' and, 'It's very joyous and uplifting.' He told the Big Issue, 'I guess subconsciously we wanted to make a record with a lot of love in it...The last few albums have been, not so much hate, but disgust, a little bit paranoid and angry and disgusted....they were kind of reportage, in that they were commenting upon the state of culture as we were living it, feeling it and breathing it.'

He summed it up in Clash. 'We have never played the game; we have always done the opposite of what anyone else thinks we are going to do. Nobody knew that we were going to come up with this record after "Evil Heat". They could never fucking imagine...they'll never ever suss us out, ever, because we are a mystery even to ourselves.'

JUNE 5, 2006. Shoreditch Town Hall.

The annual MOJO Honours ceremony. It's great to see Can picking up a trophy for Best Album in 'Tago Mago'. Amidst other venerable winners like Dave Gilmour, Sir Elton and Chrissie Hynde, who gets her award from Mick Jones, sits Bobby Gillespie, who's presenting the Maverick Award to Jim Reid of the Jesus & Mary Chain. MOJO writers have been designated a winner to 'chaperone'. Mine's Bobby - who turns up last with Mani, new guitarist Barrie Cadogan and Alison Mosshart in tow. His first words are 'Needsy, I'm smashed'. I know that look. However, fears are allayed and the evening goes without a hitch.

I hadn't seen Bobby for a while. As the 21st century progressed I seemed to see less and less of Primal Scream as I became immersed in writing books, first Primal Scream and, most recently, the New York Dolls.

After a few hours, I've got him to explain what he considers to be the most influential album of all time for MOJO. He chooses the JAMC's 'Psychocandy' but, in the whittling down process, also expounds on another classic. 'I guess "Raw Power'' has got everything really. Eight songs, high-energy rock 'n' roll. Sleazy fucking dirty sex music, James Williamson's guitar sounds like broken glass being shoved in your face. Iggy's lyrics are just incredible.'

It feels like old times. Welcome back Bobby and welcome back Ver Scream. I've missed you, you motherfuckers.

Kris Needs – tMx 25 – 06/06
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