Remember the millennium (Millennium?), it was going to change everything – hell there was a strong strain of opinion that it was going to be the end of the world, oh and I vaguely remember planes were going to drop out of the sky and microwave ovens would stop working because of the Millennium Bug (definite capital letters). Sadly Mrs 1537 and I spent Millennium Eve laid up in bed with the worst ‘flu I have ever had in my life, I remember the fireworks waking me up, dimly wondering if it was the end of the world and to be honest not really minding too much if it was, because at least that way my body would stop hurting eventually*.
But I had high hopes for music once we crossed that great divide. I imagined that some young genius somewhere would immediately invent a brand-new genre that mixed up all the best bits of all the music liked, without the bits I didn’t like which would be so good it would have to be rationed carefully in case the unwary listener caught a near terminal eargasm that depleted their serotonin levels so dramatically that they were never able to enjoy anything ever again. That’s not quite what happened, in fact most people started to run backwards for inspiration as fast as their, umm, ears would carry them. The first LP I bought from 2000 was on my birthday, 31st January when I bought Primal Scream XTRMNTR. Did I find this bold new futurerock? well …
I knew what I was getting into, in part because I’d already grabbed the single Swastika Eyes** back in December. I was already a casual Primal Scream fan, I liked Vanishing Point (sadly, it doesn’t sound much good to me these days) and I’d bought the odd single too, although I am the only person in the world who doesn’t like Screamedelica. I liked the cover and the military stencil chic and the title, so it got snapped up on the day it was released. Boy was I right to do it too! It came in two flavours, the dancier, faster Chemical brothers mix and the slightly more organic (and better) 8-minute ‘Spectre Mix’. In each, over an impossibly exciting bass line drive Bobby Gillespie ranted about ‘A military, industrial illusion of democracy’ and
Rain down fire on everyone
Scabs, police, government thieves
Venal, psychic amputees
Parasitic – you’re syphilitic, parasitic – you’re syphilitic
It was just really exciting, speedy in all the right senses of the word. Who cares if the politics was all a bit ham-fisted? it was clearly making him angry and that was, equally clearly, a very good thing indeed. Bear in mind gentle reader that hitherto Primal Scream had primarily been famous for being a bunch of hedonistic drug dustbins who made happy-ish dancey music and then decided Rolling Stones in exile was where they wanted to be, politics had never really entered into it at that point, apart from in interviews where Bobby Gillespie would rant on a bit. Also bear in mind that ‘Swastika Eyes’ had a video that ended with the band being machine-gunned and beaten up by a bunch of supermodels dressed up in camo, that was a definite plus point too.
I loved XTRMNTR right from the word go, from the stark cover pictures of jets, ‘copters and pilot’s helmets***, to the fact that it was the last LP released on Creation Records, it was a big, bold statement. The album opens with excellence in the form of ‘Kill All Hippies’ featuring dialogue taken from the film Out of the Blue and a fantastic falsetto vocal from Bobby Gillespie as the song just grooves along on a great bass line, courtesy of Mani.
Then, oh my God, THEN we just hit the best song this band has ever laid down, one of the best songs most bands have ever laid down – no exaggeration! ‘Accelerator’ does just that, it sets my blood alight every time I hear it. It’s a paean to speed and acceleration, however you want to take that. The band said at the time it was their take on Detroit punk, I get that but, me? I think it’s far better, even. Talk about the medium being the message, the song just accelerates to terminal velocity, stays there for a bit and then they really floor it. The guitars and the noises just make it sound like the whole thing was recorded on a drag strip. Kevin Shields’ production adds a real chaotic, cacophonous edge to proceedings, a bit reminiscent to the real din lurking around the edges of some of the early Stones singles. This song just gives me all the adrenalin I crave in a track – call it punk, call it rock, it doesn’t matter to me, I just need that velocity and the sheer commitment from the band to go all-out like that^.
‘Exterminator’ is a slow, futuristic groove with lots of muttered lines about prostitutes, telepaths and civil disobedience, it’s fine but overstays its welcome a little before we hit ‘Swastika Eyes (Jags Kooner Mix)’, which is the best version by far of this track. Here they play it more as a rocker than a dance track, none of the band are ever less than excellent on this LP but again Mani’s bass really stands out, turns out he may just have been a bit wasted for all those years in Stone Roses! Umm, joke, indie hardliners – damn, I have to take my family into hiding again.
The reason why XTRMNTR is a really good album with some truly great tracks on, rather than a complete classic that every home in the world should own is partly down to the next few tracks, who do dip a bit in the old inspiration stakes. ‘Pills’ almost gets there, due to sheer bloody cheek. Produced by Dan The Automator, it is nothing else than Primal Scream’s attempt at hip-hop. Bobby Gillespie’s attempt at rapping is, umm, enthusiastically amateur to put it nicely and eventually degenerates into his just repeating the words ‘Sick’ and ‘Fuck’ in tandem, over and over again. ‘Blood Money’ is better, it starts off with a fine jazz beat and hits strikingly similar territory to Radiohead’s Kid A, which wasn’t released until 9 months later, it’s not as instrumentally inspired as that despite being produced by Adrian Sherwood and David Holmes. ‘Keep Your Dreams’ is the disappointing one for me, every Primal Scream album needs a heartfelt, morning-after-the-chemical-excess-the-night-before ballad but this synth-led effort misses the mark entirely and then ‘Insect Royalty’ is less exciting than its title suggests it should be.
Anyway, we go storming back on track here with ‘MBV Arkestra (If They Move Kill ‘Em)’ which is Kevin Shields remix of a track from previous LP Vanishing Point and if that sounds like a band suffering a dearth of inspiration, think again. This is a weird and wild twisting of the original into discomforting jazz, dub and beat territories. It’s sonically very adventurous and uncompromising, unbalanced even, sounds great played really loud, the Sun-Ra reference is fitting. This is a real highlight for me. As is the next track, the hi-energy Chemical Brothers remix of ‘Swastika Eyes’. The last track is also a zinger, ‘Shoot Speed / Kill Light’ featuring New Order’s Bernard Sumner on guitar is a really, inventive motorik stomper, Darrin Mooney’s drumming is particularly good on this one. This really does sound like a band in search of the future to me.
So there you have it, I know I gush a bit too much, but there are some brilliant tracks here, the best of which do mix up all those genres I like and find exciting^^, putting them back, or trying to, in new and unusual ways. I know Primal Scream get derided a bit sometimes as record collector rock – a band too much in thrall to past greats and to be fair there are elements of truth in that, but definitely not on XTRMNTR, you can sense them smashing different things together seeing where the pieces fall, Kevin Shields contributions being particularly telling.
Futurerock? not quite there yet, but they were trying damn hard.
P.S – I stole the phrase ‘drug dustbins’ from an interview I read about the band years ago, can’t remember exactly where, sorry.
*when the kids eventually ask how we spent it, we need to invent something a bit more glamorous – possibly involving Polynesian islands, speed boats and A-list celebrities.
** I know it reads SWSTK YS on the label – I reject the tyranny of stencilled, military-chic style names and I’m going to use all the proper vowels from here on in.
***which always look a bit menacing, just ask Black Sabbath.
^live it was even better, I used to pogo all the way through, much to the annoyance of lily-livered types around me.
^^with the exception of Finnish ambient-glam-rockabilly which is woefully under-represented here.