Like dance writer Simon Reynolds says, Primal Scream are a critic's band, because all their records, sleeves, haircuts are acts of criticism themselves, statements about how music should be. "Rocks" for-realisms are a sight posier than any New Romantic record ever made, in other words. Nothing wrong with that in one sense - a lot of really fertile, inspirational music has been made on little but imitation and a strong sense of style - but it sometimes goes badly wrong. Give Out But Don't Give Up, the record "Rocks" heralded, was met with absolute incredulity. For every powder-fuelled trendy who reckoned they could see what Primal Scream were getting at with this loose, louche trawl through stereotypical rock'n'roll and dodgy Confederacy chic, several more were absolutely heartbroken. I can remember the reactions to "Rocks" among my friends, from mild disappointment through outright mockery to an aghast sense of betrayal. Primal Scream, after all, were the band who had shown the way, who'd seen the error of their indie rock ways and taken plenty of us along with them. Nobody in 1994 much listened to Screamadelica any more, but we all of us owned it. "Bitches keep bitchin'/ Clap keeps an-itchin'" - how could they do this to us?
And then I heard "Rocks" again a few years later and it sounded brilliant - cheap, cheeky, propelled by a tinnily primitive backbeat, wickedly unfashionable good-time music. Context, as usual, was important - Primal Scream had in some senses been proved right, as their disasterous career move was just the first squirts of a torrent of history-worship, nearly all of it more grim and pompous and musicianly than Give Out.... And at the same time the only fun to be had from dance music was the Skint records and Chemical Brothers stuff, which everybody was calling rock anyway. Very little of any of it sounded as good as "Rocks", which slid right into the boozy big-beat ethos.
It turned out, then, that the whole indie-dancey-baggy thing hadn't been about abandoning just the holed hull of rock, but abandoning ideas of taste and genre completely, chucking in utopian notions of musical originality in favour of a big end-of-the-century party where tastemakers winked knowingly at each other across the sweaty, cheering crowds. Give Out But Don't Give Up? In the end we settled for both.
Well, obviously, if I was doing it today I'd replace it with Reef.
"Rocks" is not one of the 100 best singles of the 90s, or one of my 100 favourites, or whatever. Listening to it again though I'm not QUITE as embarassed as I thought I'd be - it does have a boozy vim and Bobby Gillespie's voice has rarely been better (this is saying very little, mind you). There's a balance between crassness and reverence which they come closer than usual to hitting.
The first half of the write-up is fine (mostly) and honest - the reaction to "Rocks" was a mixture of astonished and appalled. I guess in the second half I'm groping for the idea that either we were dumb back then to imagine that a band might 'matter', or that something during the 90s shifted so that bands didn't 'matter' any more. There's also the idea of 'retro', or 'record collection rock', not as a vile anti-progressive move but as a hugely enjoyable game of poses and stances - finding an old aesthetic and dressing up in it. I don't know if that's what I meant, though, by "abandoning ideas of taste and genre completely", I think I was looking for an excuse to pick a record I wasn't even sure about at the time. This is a theme throughout the list, really - spinning out some fragment of theorised context to justify a screwy random preference.
You can hear this masterpiece here.