Baby, baby, baby, have mercy.

August 7, 2009

The stack of bills on my dining room table tells me I mustn’t be a slouch like last month and put “Vs.” off until the end of the month now.

So this month, our confrontation takes us out of Motown and across the Atlantic to that great time in Great Britain prior to Britpop but a little on the afterburn of the whole Madchester/dance scene.

Heady days to be sure, but if anyone knew how to morph and find direction (as they always do), it was Primal Scream. A lot critics will say they were much better at shapeshifting and being all kinds of amazing back in the late 1980s, all the way through the 1990s and right up to 2000’s XTRMNTR, but I still contend the albums they’ve done since the turn of the century all have fine, fine moments.

This is certainly a topic I’ve covered on this blog before, but I think you can pin fandom or dismissal of Primal Scream on your personal feelings for Bobby Gillespie. If you see him as a drugged out copycat with pipes not properly befitting of a rock and roll lead singer, you probably loved the chance to lash a good critical tongue in the direction of, say, Riot City Blues, but for my money (and all his transgressions), I’ve found very few rock and roll singers to be as soulful on the incredibly unspectacular terrain that Gillespie inhibits. First of all, he was the drummer for Jesus and the Mary Chain. He’s got a voice, but he doesn’t got a very thick one. He’s stole his dance moves off Mick Jagger, his swagger from the Faces and most of his shades from the MC5. The guy’s easy to hate. But there are also few singers out there who seem as invested in the “Yeah”s they let out in a song. So I’ll always be a fan.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Scream’s definining moment came with the 1990 single “Loaded,” which barely featured Gillespie at all (and is still available on this blog’s summer mix, for all you slackers). It was supposed to be the new direction for Madchester and the E’d up dance music that had all but drowned northern England at the end of the 1980s. Primal Scream’s ensuing 1991 album Screamadelica is probably their most fondly remembered LP and a statement that they had the bravado to make an album strong enough to back the monster single that preceded it.

Hope was foisted upon the drugged up Scots, who then hi-jacked it, imbibed a lot of drugs and moonshine, couped themselves up in America for a year and made the greatest album of 1973 19 years too late. And from then on out, Primal Scream became Britpop fan’s favorite argument starter.

But what everyone forgets about their greatest moment, “Loaded,” is that that song is simply a remix of what arguably might be their truly greatest song, “I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have” (and how great of a title is that?!).

The song originally appeared on their self-titled 1989 record, and is a perfect examination of why I regard Gillespie so highly. This is a pure blues/soul song touched up with a bit of guitar flare and northern soul. And while maybe a voice like Paul Weller’s and certainly a voice like Steve Marriott’s or (hell, let’s just go for it) Solomon Burke’s could have put this song into entirely different stratosphere’s, Gillespie’s voice wavers through this in a comparatively mundane fashion.

But the thing is, Bobby BELIEVES what he’s singing. He may not be that much better of a vocalist than the guy who always rips the place apart at your local karaoke night, but he believes in the power of rock and roll and the pain of a broken heart. That’s why even though all those other names might have done unfathomnable jobs to “I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have,” Gillespie made it the perfect little pop song it is here. It’s just too bad that a 7-minute remix that, while admittedly awesome, cut all the guts out of the song is what ended up launching the band.

Fortunately, there were some people that appreciated the song, among them Swedish starlet and former Andy Bell spouse Idha, who covered the song as part of her 1994 mini-album A Woman in a Man’s World. The song gets a lilting acoustic finish, that doesn’t even come close to matching the passion of the original, but it’s also played with obvious reverence to the original — and that untraceable personal magic that Idha puts in just about everything she lends her voice to. Heck, if I started strumming “I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have” and any woman started singing along, let alone one with the looks or voice of Idha, I’d probably be ring shopping the next day.

Still, the original is the ultimate for me. For you?

Primal Scream vs. Idha
“I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have”

Primal Scream – I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have

Idha – I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have

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