Unpopular Advent 2018 – Day 20

Primal Scream – Give Out But Don’t Give Up (The Memphis Sessions)

Let’s get this straight from the start: When ‘Give Out But Don’t Give Up’ came out twenty five years ago I hated almost everything about it. Sure, the Glam Slade Stomp Bubblegum Punk of ‘Rocks’ was hilarious, dumb and hence the perfect Pop single. ‘Jailbirds’ followed it on a similar level of Let’s Pretend To Be The Rolling Stones intensity but somehow Not Just Quite and from thereon it all seemed to nose-dive rapidly into sludgy unlistenable nonsense. In 2018 I gave my clearly barely touched vinyl a spin just to check I wasn’t unfairly projecting twisted memories onto it (after all, at the time I would have been listening to much more hip hop, drum’n’bass, electronic etc). I wasn’t. Indeed, if anything, it sounded even more unpleasant and mired in a time thankfully long since passed. Only the aforementioned ‘Rocks’ and the forgotten print of the William Eggleston cover photograph gave me any delight at all.

Of course the reason for this detour into the murky past was all down to the release of the Original Memphis Sessions. The story is well documented in the record’s lavish liner notes, accompanying facsimile materials and in the BBC4 documentary about the whole process. Now I admit that I found the film in equal parts hilarious, depressing and incredibly (and surprisingly, I admit) touching. Hilarious and depressing in the sense of 50-something men still apparently under the illusion that adding the word ‘fuck’ or ‘fucking’ as punctuation between every other word is essential to illustrate their authenticity as Rock’n’Roll Outlaws and/or Working Class Heroes (and incidentally, as someone who works on a daily basis with children and parents from so-called Disadvantaged and Working Class backgrounds, I am fully cognisant of the dangers of criticising/modifying/judging the language of any given Class’ cultural context). Hilarious and depressing too how the story of the early Primal Scream leapt straight from Council House flats in Glasgow to the one song on their second LP that became ‘Loaded’. Honestly, I get why Gillespie et al want to expunge the ‘All Fall Down’, ‘Imperial’ and ‘Ivy Ivy Ivy’ phases from their narrative, but as someone only half-jokingly pointed out when watching the film, “they’ve missed out the best bit!”.

All that said, I admit I have been taken aback by just how good the Original Memphis Recordings set sounds in 2018. In all honesty it’s many years since I cared about Primal Scream and it was partly a vague disappointment on hearing Spiritualized’s occasionally very fine but often mediocre ‘And Nothing Hurt’ set that I decided to pick up on The Memphis Sessions. If the Spiritualized record gives off hints and suggestions of Southern Rock, Soul and Jazz (and it does) then the frustration for me is that it does so in a very knowing, cold manner. It feels like an exercise in assembling signifiers of Taste, which is fine up to a point but you know it can be very easy to become bored by that point. In contrast the Original Memphis Sessions does sound like a record immersed in its roots. You should know by now how much I mistrust the idea of authenticity in Rock or Pop music, but I am not sure I want to avoid using it here.

A younger Gillespie mutters something in the documentary film about Soul music and amongst the extended (and clearly drug-addled) monologue he is essentially correct. Soul isn’t about the colour of skin, it’s about something ineffable, undefinable. Maybe this is why he struggles to put it into words. Maybe it’s captured in what Tom O’Dowd says about it all being very simple, and maybe that’s all there is to it. It’s so simple that it’s impossible to explain. You can hear it and you can feel it (so why can’t you touch it?).

Some do not hear it in Primal Scream and therefore will not hear it in the Original Memphis Sessions. That is fine, even if they are wrong. For in these grooves I hear songs that soar, songs that dive to the depths of darkness, songs that sooth the pain and songs that open the wounds.

I admit that I am frankly startled by just how good these recordings sound to me, now, in 2018. Unlike the ‘originally’ released version of ‘Give Out’, which sounds completely and utterly Of It’s Time and hence almost entirely unlistenable now, the Memphis Sessions sound timeless, soaked in a magic that is very much rooted in the context of the players who made it and in the place it was made.

At the end of the documentary Gillespie opens up and admits he doesn’t think he will ever make anything as great as this record again. You can’t help but laugh along with him in agreement.

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