This past weekend, music lovers and festival aficionados flocked to Chicago to congregate in Grant Park for their annual pilgrimage to see the mother of all music festivals, Lollapalooza. For the last decade, Lollapalooza has made Chicago it’s spiritual home. It is quite the cultural institution as people of all ages gather together for the love of music. Whether you’re watching a fresh, up-and-coming band or established legacy artists, there is something for everything.
I’ve been in Chicago for five years and I still haven’t been to Lollapalooza. I’m sure I’ll go at some point, but I’ve mentioned before how I don’t typically enjoy large music festivals. Lollapalooza is one of the biggest and certainly the most famous of those held in this country. Of course, with that comes a lot of undesirable people and elements. I was amused looking through my social media feeds reading my friends’ humorous observations of those attending the fest. And a lot of that came from people who actually went and had a good time.
Despite my complaints about music festivals in general, there is a lot to admire about Lollapalooza. Since 1991, Lollapalooza has been an influential musical force for establishing how a music festival should be. You don’t get to be around for 25 years if you’re not doing something right.
25 years is a long time for anybody to survive consistently in the music business. I spent time thinking about how music has changed since 1991 as art and as industry. Some things for the better, and others not so much. As I continued reading about all of the great things to come out or premiere in 1991, I was intrigued just how influential that year was. Not only that, but I couldn’t think of any subsequent year being as culturally significant with regards to music. I realized that 1991 was the last great year in music.
Not only did Lollapalooza held it’s inaugural festival in 1991, but a lot of amazing and career-defining albums came out that year. Ten¸ Pearl Jam’s debut, marked a stellar contribution to the grunge rock wave that Nirvana helped popularize with their monumental album Nevermind. Already international rock stars, a very self-conscious U2 dropped the self-righteousness in favor of irony for the release of Achtung Baby. And My Bloody Valentine dropped Loveless, a masterpiece that did for shoegaze what The Velvet Underground& Nico did for art rock in 1967.
With so many stellar and important albums coming out that year, it is understandable that a few get overlooked. Primal Scream’s Screamadelica is not just one of those albums, but I believe it is the most underrated album of 1991. Originally formed in Scotland during the early 1980s, Primal Scream initially started off as an indie pop band. By the turn of the decade, they transitioned their sound and seamlessly blended alternative rock and electronica; pioneering new waves in alternative rock that include more danceable elements drawing influence from dub and house music.
There are so many great tracks on the album. “Movin’ On Up” is uplifting and features tinges of gospel. “Damaged” is an honest and emotional song with a quiet sense of minimalism when measured against the rest of the album. “Slip Inside This House” is trippy fun. And “Don’t Fight It, Feel It” is an essential dance anthem.
With so many great tracks, it is hard to pick just any one out without listening to the whole album. However, I continue to find that “Loaded” is my favorite track on the album. Kicking off the track is audio of Peter Fonda from his film The Wild Angel (1966). His demand to get loaded and have a good time is such an appropriate launching point for what follows. Horns and gospel vocals charge in and then segue into a funky drum loop with a chill guitar and jaunty piano layered in the mix. Many of the riffs loop throughout the track making this 7-minute track incredibly danceable. A few random vocals are strewn about to break up the mix and a charging guitar strum adds a dynamic break.
Screamadelica is such a triumph. Whenever I put it on, I don’t stop listening until the album ends. The album has garnered a lot of praise over the years, but not enough. Overlooked by other mega-successful albums launched the same year, Screamadelica still feels very much like a fringe experience; a cult classic. Some elements may sound dated 25 years later, but it still continues to be influential. If you’re looking for something fun and loose, pick up this album.