Airbrush The Pentagon

On the penultimate day of September, I receive the tracklisting for Dirty Hits, the first ever Primal Scream compilation. And I laugh, sad and tired. Look at this:
    1. Loaded
    2. Movin On Up
    3. Come Together
    4. Higher Than The Sun
    5. Rocks
    6. Jailbird
    7. Cry Myself Blind
    8. Burning Wheel
    9. Kowalski
    10. Long Life
    11. Swastika Eyes 7"
    12. Kill All Hippies
    13. Accelerator
    14. Shoot Speed Kill Light
    15. Miss Lucifer
    16. Deep Hit Of Morning Sun
    17. Some Velvet Morning (Kevin Shields/ Jagz Kooner version)- featuring Kate Moss
    18. Autobahn 66
Now, I'm not some kind of grumpy C86 purist who thinks it all went wrong when the Berlin Wall came down and Terry Bickers left the House Of Love. And, as far as I'm concerned, Bobby Gillespie's proper place is behind his minimal drumkit on the first Jesus & Mary Chain album. But Primal Scream have had their moments, and I do think that the likes of 'Velocity Girl' and 'Star Fruit Surf Rider' are lovely little songs. When I first heard the Stone Roses, I thought they were a bad Primal Scream cover band. And isn't it slightly peculiar to begin a chronological retrospective of your musical career with stuff from your third album?

If you're too old or young to know the story, here's the guts of it. By the end of the janglepop 80s Primal Scream had mutated into MC5 wannabes, but Andrew Weatherall remixed them and the rock/dance crossover was born. The bane of Gillespie's career thereafter is that 'Loaded', the track that pushed Primal Scream into the mainstream, is really a track by Weatherall, who reworked 'I'm Losing More Than I'll Ever Have' (from the second album) so intensively that very little of the source material remained.

But 'Loaded' is still the one that the casual browser knows, the one they use on adverts and on compilations of sports clips, so that's where we come in. It's a bit like those photos from the early days of the Russian revolution, where Trotsky was painted out, on Stalin's orders. It's inwardly directed revisionism. As George Orwell would have put it, the first two Scream albums have become unpersons.

It does rather make you wonder what the idea behind this album is. Wouldn't it be interesting to have a couple of those early singles and b-sides, so influential on the Roses and the Manics and many others? Or maybe the original 'I'm Losing...' so we could compare it with 'Loaded' and see exactly what Weatherall did or didn't contribute? Or 'You're Just Dead Skin To Me', because it's the best title for a rock song ever? Or tracks from Echo Dek, Adrian Sherwood's lounge-dub dissection of Vanishing Point? Or even, now that two years have passed and it's OK to hate Americans again, to rearrange those three magic words 'Pentagon', 'Bomb' and 'The'?

It's a selection that really doesn't do Primal Scream any favours. By only including the singles, it identifies them as just another singles band. And by defining the Screamadelica album as Year Zero, it identifies them as a band that began with a mighty, era-defining roar, then consistently failed to match it for the next dozen years. They clearly wanted to be the Stones or the Clash or U2, but these 18 tracks put them in the same league as unfulfilled promises like the Roses, Oasis, even Frankie Goes To Hollywood.

There's an old theatrical story, the sort that Ned Sherrin tells if you tickle his chins. The specifics change, but it's always about some middle-aged grande dame, past her best, performing at a matinee. And she's interrupted by a small child asking 'Mummy, what is that lady for?'

It's a question that can be asked about this album. And, increasingly, about Primal Scream.

© 2003 Tim Footman