Primal Scream is best known for their 1991 album Screamdelica, a kaleidoscopic take on acid-fried rock and ecstasy-fueled house music. The record was more than just a commercial smash while it topped charts in the U.K. (and did very well in the U.S. as well), it was a cultural watershed, giving mainstream listeners an access point to the until-then cloistered world of electronic dance music. House and techno, for better or worse, became part of the hip (or at least profitable) cultural landscape throughout the rest of the ’90s, and the mix of genres would make Screamdelica almost as important as it’s American counterpart, Nirvana’s Nevermind, in shaping pop music in the early ’90s.
But let’s face it: Any true Primal Scream fan knows their work is somewhat checkered. They’ve put out one truly great album, several good ones, and quite a few bad ones in their day, and the band is still recording. We don’t know what’s yet to come, but we do know what to seek out in their discography.
Indispensable. After noodling around with retro-rock for two albums in the late ’80s, Primal Scream came out of left field (with enormous help from DJ Andrew Weatherall) with a record that sounded unlike anything anyone else was doing. True, the house is dated today. It sounds like 1991. But it also has great tracks, including “Movin’ On Up, “Higher Than the Sun,” “Come Together” and “Loaded.”
Vanishing Point, 1997
After venturing back to classic rock-and discovering their fans wanted more electronic textures Primal Scream turned out the excellent album Vanishing Point. It’s a pretty solid release, though instead of the dance party of house, listeners were met with darker, dub-influenced trip-hop. “Kowalski” and “If They Move, Kill ‘Em” are probably the two best loved tracks, but there’s a lot to enjoy here, including instrumentals like “Get Duffy.”
By the time Primal Scream had released 2000, their music had only really found a strong audience when the band was turning out electronica. Rather than shifting back to the retro-rock they were known for in their humble beginnings, they came back with another album full of dance music but this was angry, raging, vaguely political techno, aka “music you can riot to.” It does indeed sound like a riot, peppered with cryptic references to the works of William S. Burroughs, thought control and totalitarianism. “Kill All Hippies,” the title track, suggests the tone that will dominate the album, but there’s a lot of great songs here, including the danceable “Swastika Eyes,” pounding “Exterminator” and vaguely uplifting “Keep Your Dreams” and “Shoot Speed/Kill Light.” Once again experimenting with instrumentals, “Blood Money” is a gloriously weird and sinister track that will get repeated listens.
Riot City Blues, 2006
It took Primal Scream a number of years to put out another roots rock record, but here it is and it’s actually not bad. It probably won’t blow your mind, but if you prefer rock to techno, then songs like the album opener, “Country Girl,” and “Suicide Sally and Johnny Guitar” will keep your foot tapping. This is not a bad development for Primal Scream, who began emulating bands like the Byrds and the Rolling Stones on their first two albums, and slowly phased out their rock influences for electronica as time went on. One wonders if maybe the expectations of fans prevented them from exploring their full musical range but no matter. Here’s a great entry in classic rock ‘n’ roll.
Now that you’re more familiar with the band’s music, consider seeing them live by getting some Primal Scream tickets.