Primal Scream - XTRMNTR
There is something very fitting about the sleeve of XTRMNTR. Its montage of helicopter gunships, military aeroplanes and fighter pilots suggest an all-out assault, and that is exactly what the record delivers. Could there be more of a contrast with the abstract sun painting that adorned Screamadelica ten years earlier? If that album was a dream of ecstasy-fuelled unity, XTRMNTR is the sound of a fractured populace and fractured minds.
Vanishing Point, its immediate predecessor, was a frequently dark record, the inevitable comedown after the band’s drug habits. Lyrically, Exterminator (the track) takes this a step further, the paranoia becoming more acute to encompass societal conspiracies. (Of course, just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you, etc.) Over a techno-funk backing, its string of expressions suggest manipulative state control (“Exterminate the underclass/ Exterminate the telepaths/ No civil disobedience”) and a messed-up junkie mind (“Incubating ultraviolence/ Psychic distortions/ Slow death injectable/ Narcosis terminal/ Damaged receptors/ Fractured Speech”). Perhaps it’s no surprise that the “interzone” of William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch should also be referenced.
Swastika Eyes is more directly political, an attack on the foreign (and domestic) policy of certain western countries: “Auto-suggestion psychology/ Elimination policy/ Military industrial/ Illusion of democracy”. Elsewhere, there’s an idealist/ anti-capitalist stance. Employing a Tim Burgess-style falsetto, Gillespie sings “You got the money I got the soul” on Kill All Hippies. The album’s sole moment of beauty Keep Your Dreams has a similar message, and recalls Shine Like Stars from Screamadelica.
As usual, Primal Scream drafted in an interesting range of collaborators. My Bloody Valentine's Kevin Shields over saw the two best - and loudest - tracks on XTRMNTR. Although both demonstrate an astonishing commitment to devastating your eardrums, they are very different in style. Accelerator was the last ever single to be put out by Creation records, and could there have been a better swan song? Gillespie is almost indecipherable against a whirlwind of guitars and feedback, but the lyrics - about the need to go absolutely bloody mental once in a while - are perfectly reflected in the energy of the track. MBV Arkestra [If They Move Kill Em] is a remix - or reinterpretation - of one of the weaker links from Vanishing Point. A seven minute psychedelic instrumental somewhere between jazz and dance, it builds slowly, adding swaths of guitar and layers of blaring horns over an intensifying beat. Imagine successive waves of fighter planes laying waste to your speakers. It’s only trajectory is to become increasingly frenzied; it gets louder and louder, and, just when you think it can’t get any louder, it gets louder still. After hearing these two tracks, little wonder Primal Scream recruited Shields as a permanent member.
Bar Bernard Sumner, whose guitar is all over Shoot Speed/Kill Light, the other contributors leave less of a signature. In fact, the less said about Dan the Automator and Pills, the better. It’s an unconvincing slice of self-despising hip-hop, Gillespie’s rapping a bad idea. The Chemical Brothers strip Swastika Eyes to its dance essentials, making for an anonymous yet satisfying experience. However, it’s debatable whether this song really warrants a double appearance; unlike, say Higher than the Sun on Screamadelica. David Holmes is associated with production on a couple of tracks, of which the punk-jazz of Blood Money is most notable, a piece of music looking for a film.
With its abrasive edge, ear-splitting noise, excursions into jazz and take-no-prisoner politics, XTRMNTR is a less inviting work than previous Primal Scream albums. It may not sit well with fans of their earlier music, never mind newcomers to the band. However, those looking for intelligent electronic rock should not be disappointed.