XTRMNTR, (2000)

  • Bobby Gillespie – vocals, guitar, samples
  • Andrew Innes – guitar
  • Robert Young – guitar, programming
  • Martin Duffy – keyboards, programming
  • Gary ‘Mani’ Mounfield – bass
  • Darrin Mooney – drums
  • Jim Hunt – saxophone
  • Duncan Mackay – trumpet

If there’s a more iconic moment in 2000’s rock n’ roll than this record’s opening sample of the kid’s voice calmly advocating to “kill all hippies” then I’m not aware of it. It’s the type of opening you really have to back up in order to avoid an epic letdown, and the dead sexy groove of “Kill All Hippies” does just that with Bobby intoning the effectively simplistic mantra of “You’ve got the money, I’ve got the soul” over and over until he, and you, truly believe it at least for a glorious five minutes. It’s the opening to arguably Primal Scream’s best album, and certainly their most critically acclaimed since Screamadelica, a record that still gets the 5,000 word think piece treatment to this very day. It’s a  record so good that no amount of praise can keep it from feeling underrated.

Just what type of evil street substance were the boys on when they laid down “Accelerator”? This thing makes The Stooges sound like The Mammas & The Pappas, all desperation gutter riffs and nonsensical wails that somehow congeal into a cohesive single, every second dripping with an amped up tension that explodes again and again, shooting fireworks directly into the crowd with demented glee. “Accelerator” is the perfect name for this beast since it just keeps ramping upward and further out as it goes along as if the band were daring one another to burn it down to the ashes as they played. Innes and Throb must really have been going through some shit to be able to churn out dueling solos as evil as this, and the point just before the fadeout where their individual wailings get all tangled up with one another is pure visceral beauty. This is Primal Scream’s “Helter Skelter” moment and it’s one of the greatest moments ever captured in any artform.

XTRMNTR doesn’t let up for a single moment. Mani’s completely insane bass on “Exterminator” plays like Lemmy in a fistfight with Peter Hook in a wind tunnel. “Swastika Eyes” is the only anti-Thatcher song you ever need to hear, cutting straight to the point in droog-like fashion, the only way to have any effect in this particular line of protest song. The fact that this straight-up political song doubles as a decadent club banger is testament to the God-level the Scream was operating on when making this record.

One of the most eviscerating lyrical rants ever laid down on tape, “Pills” finds Bobby Gillespie going in on a drugged-out hanger on, girlfriend, band member, or possibly even himself. “I’m gonna’ tell you the truth, the truth about you, the truth about you, you’ve never been true, you ain’t nothin’, got nothin’ to say, shine a light on you, you fade away”. This is an intense therapy session right here, and the song is saved from the aggro dustbin both by the true pain in his voice and the contrastingly chill musical backdrop his bandmates lay down, as if they were having a spliff and jamming while waving off their wayward singer. “Let the batty bloke do his thing, mannnn.”

Like nearly all classic records, XTRMNTR has lesser-cited deep cuts that yield endless treasure upon further digging, some of which inspire cults of their own like deity uprisings in rural Indian villages. The vocal-less “Blood Money” is one of these, a doomy freejazz freakout that would have fit right in on Vanishing Point but here works to ground the record’s electro-futurist leanings on a bed of earth. Another is “Keep your Dreams”, a tingly and lush bit of Utopian splendor planted right in the center of a paranoid deathwish of album. “MBV Arkestra (if They Move, Kill Em’)” is further proof that there’s a full freak funk album lurking deep in Primal Scream’s practice tapes somewhere. After the “swinging for the fences” first half, this second, mellower side of XTRMNTR is somehow even stranger and harder hitting than those insistent Side A gut punches. If anything these are the tracks that make XTRMNTR the full-tilt stunning classic it is, offering variety while sticking close to the general theme.

How exactly are you supposed to close out a beast like this, to bring a burning plane to some semblance of a landing? Well, “Shoot Speed/Kill Light” will do, won’t it? Four words all are Gillespie needs to define the neon-lit, crimson-splattered crime scene he and his band have just left behind, intoning them mantra-like while Innes, Mani and especially Martin Duffy on some gnarly Moogs provide a slow burn apocalypse on the backdrop. If you ever wondered what the Earth being slowly swallowed by the sun would sound like, this might be it right here.

XTRMNTR was both perfectly of its time and well out ahead of it. It’s still running laps around us. Released right at the dawning of the gradual slide that became whatever this social media, tech dictator hellscape is we’re currently living in, the record served as a horrorshow expose of the then present, a distinctly non-preachy warning about the future, and it now seems to have lapped us to stand years into the abyss, reflecting a mirror back upon us from safe ground. And yet somehow XTRMNTR never feels heavy or even particularly ambitious. It’s even a party record, and anyone who’s been to a PS show will know that “Kill All Hippies” and “Accelerator” are hands-in-the-air singalongs at heart. I guess it could be that XTRMNTR is all things to all people, and it’s only the members of the “Insect Royalty”, backstabbing junkie friends, notches on the blood money line, and all those with the swastika eyes that are excluded.

Evil Heat, (2002)

  • Bobby Gillespie – vocals, guitar, programming
  • Andrew Innes – guitar
  • Robert Young – guitar, programming
  • Martin Duffy – keyboards, programming, samples
  • Gary ‘Mani’ Mounfield – bass
  • Darrin Mooney – drums, programming

While the switch from XTRMNTR to Evil Heat may feel on the surface like the least amount of change between any two PS records, all it takes is a little dig into the ideology of the record to realize these two searing electro beasts come from completely different solar systems. For all its decadent aspirations and Korg-infused backroom prowling, at heart XTRMNTR was a relatively earnest political statement. Sure, the statement was more on the side of anarchy and the White Panther’s “sex, dope, and fucking in the streets” than the limousine lib leanings of most of their fellow UK dinosaur rock acts, but it was earnest nonetheless. Even a statement as wayward as “Kill All Hippies” was grounded in a pathos that was first bubbling up in 2002 and would eventually spawn the “Ok Boomer” whining of today. One thing that the many “20 Year Anniversary Of XTRMNTR: A Political Firebrand Ahead Of It’s Time” essays failed to mention this year is just how conventional the left wing sloganeering truly was underneath those snarling synths.

Evil Heat is an entirely different story. Gone and seemingly forgotten is any form of progressive political idealism, and it’s been replaced by dueling strands of nihilism and decadence aimed straight at the then-emerging indie disco dance floors. It cannot be overstated just how much pre-gentrified urban party scenes from New York’s Misshapes and Trash to London’s The Foundry (and Philly’s Making Time and L.A.’s downtown warehouse action and Berlin’s etc. etc. etc.), not to mention oh-so-edgy adjacent media entities like early Vice Magazine and Last Night’s Party all played a significant role on the coked-up, post-millennium, open-shirted nihilism on display all over Evil Heat. On the lusty, fire breathing “Miss Lucifer” and the refreshingly nuance-free “The Lord Is My Shotgun”, we find Primal Scream once again shooting for the dance floors, although those dance floors have morphed since Screamadelica. This isn’t a loved-up “all together now, mate” experience. It’s a paranoid back room line-fest with an eye out for the birds and a smirk on its face. And it’s fucking awesome. The only reason it isn’t getting its due at the moment like its predecessor is that these aren’t decadent times. But it will, oh yes it will, and when it does deep cuts like the prowling ‘Skull X” and and the dancing-in-the-ashes dystopia of “Scanner Darkly” will be rightly heralded. Even Kate Moss, deep in her rock-star-courting days of ruining multiple otherwise-fine tracks from fine bands with her sub-Nico vocals, can’t quite ruin the picture-perfect “Some Velvet Morning” cover. And those who worship under the massive speakers of the one and only Mani will find a holy grail with the Kraut-rock-on-ketamine “Autobahn 66”.

Living in the shadows of its proclaimed predecessor, this evil twin is a realm of shadowy delights lurking on your preferred streaming service if you dare give in to it.

Riot City Blues, (2006)

  • Bobby Gillespie – vocals
  • Andrew Innes – guitar, mandolin, banjo, synthesizer
  • Martin Duffy – piano, organ, harmonium, harmonica
  • Robert Young – guitars, harmonica
  • Gary ‘Mani’ Mounfield – bass guitar
  • Darrin Mooney – drums, percussion

RCB may not have been anywhere near as high profile as their other hated pure rock n’ roll album, Give Out But Don’t Give Up, but it drew a near equal amount of sheer revulsion from the post-’70s anti-guitar decadence critical pearl clutchers. Not only did this slab of molten Johnny Thunders worship come on the back end of two straight electro-leaning records promoting futuristic dread and vague political posturing but 2006 was a time when the whole “extremely online” thing was really taking hold, opening up the reactionary floodgates to thousands of solitary snipers out for blood on anything deemed backward-leaning. Where Evil Heat and XTRMNTR could find a place on this barren and unforgiving landscape, poor Riot City Blues with its throwback junkie rock cliches and song titles such as “Nitty Gritty” was left primed for the slaughter.

But it was Primal Scream who had the last laugh. No matter how many “Rock Is Dead” op eds have appeared each year for the past two decades, the simple fact of the matter is that the true masses, i.e. the millions of souls who have no idea what a Pitchfork is, love a good old fashioned Les Paul riff, a bangin’ chorus, and some skinny white boys howling about good times and fast women. The proof? Lead off track “Country Girl” with its big dumb party hard chorus and NSFW video ended up being The Scream’s hugest hit since the days of “Movin’ On Up” and “Rocks”. The album itself made #5 on the UK charts, and the Riot City Blues Tour packed out venues from coast to many different coast.

Much like with Give Out, this pure rock album seems to be a bit of a palette cleanser for The Scream, casting off the “hey, we’re artists here” graspings of the preceding three albums and just letting it rip on some good old fashioned rock tracks. but make no mistake, RCB is an entirely different beast than the Ardent/Stax leanings of Give Out. First off it aspires more toward the ’70s than the ’60s, aiming for that tricky grey area where emerging punk and the last gasps of boogie rock met in an awkward but satisfying alliance. “Suicide Sally & Johnny Guitar” burns with a malevolent glee as off putting as it is infectious, and when Bobby wails “Allright, allright, baby, babby, I’m doin’ allright” you don’t believe him for one moment. In the same vein is “When The Bomb Drops”, a junkie rock dirge through and through with a searing goth riff on the bridges that burns like something off an early Cult album. “Little Death” is even better, with some swirling psych creeping in on the intro like a long vaulted outtake from The Stooges first album. It’s easily the best track here, but gospel-laced closer ‘Sometimes I Feel So Lonely” and “Hell’s Comin’ Down” give it a run for its money, with the latter injecting a much-needed burst of woozy sunshine into an otherwise claustrophobic album.

Are there some missteps on RCB? Sho nuff. Skip right to the Bo Diddley aping ’99th Floor” or the NY Dolls lite of “Dolls” to hear them for yourself. And yet there are more than enough Scream bangers on this thing, tracks that remain killer live staples to this very day, to make a case for this being an unjustly reviled album. It may be your least favorite in the Scream cannon, but have you ever written a song as effective in its purpose as “Country Girl”? We’ll wait.

Beautiful Future, (2008)

  • Bobby Gillespie – vocals
  • Andrew Innes – guitar, synthesizer
  • Gary Mounfield – bass guitar
  • Martin Duffy – keyboards
  • Darrin Mooney – drums, percussion

A dark pop jewel of The Scream’s discography, the underappreciated Beautiful Future is lurking just beneath the top soil for anyone curious enough to uncover it. The record mines an often overlooked strength in The Primal’s arsenal: the ability to craft shimmering, radio-ready pop nuggets with a decidedly dark undercurrent only detectable to a select few. Take for example the opening title track which comes coasting in on layers of glossy, sugarcoated synths hitting like the first rays of summer. After RCB, one can be forgiven for being confused. The juxtaposition from scuzzed-out junkie riff rock to top-down Clear Channel pop is jarring, but if you’re paying attention to the lyrics you know this is apocalypse as usual; it’s just being sold to you in a different package. “Take a ride around your city, tell me what do you see, Empty houses? Burning cars? Naked bodies hanging from the trees?” Sorry lads, Radio1 won’t be accepting this track for their playlists.

Featuring one of the raunchiest Andrew Innes riffs since Self Titled, “Can’t Go Back” is a stone cold Scream classic. Perfectly compressed Korg blasts weave in and out of Mani’s freight train bass rumbles as if playing chicken with each other, and the album’s general theme of modern paranoia can be summed up in Bobby’s clear-as-a-bell confession: “I looked into my baby’s eyes, I tried so hard to find some light, when I looked there was no one there, no one there at all”. It’s the most realized rock/pop synergy The Scream has yet bulls-eyed, punching out before the 3:50 mark having accomplished a remarkable amount within the standard verse/chorus/verse/chorus/solo/chorus/out framework. And while a chorus like “Can’t go back, I can’t go back, to the place I was before” may not specifically say much, it sure speaks volumes of confusion, conviction, and glistening paranoia within its delivery.

A real welcome surprise on BF are the slow burning soul numbers, with “Uptown” being the best of them with its simmering electro groove and non-pretentious working class shout outs. “You go out dancing taking drugs with your friends, you feel so good you never want it to end, and when the comedown hits and Monday arrives, back in the office, cage, or factory line”. It’s a verse that could have existed in “Rebel Rebel” or even an edgier Springsteen deep cut, but there’s no Boss bluster here, no camped-up glam escapism either, just a palpable sense of loneliness, Bobby Gillespie surveying the lost souls of the wasteland with dead-eyed despair. “Glory Of Love” is saved from cheesiness by the pronounced industrial clutter that creeps in on the choruses and the presence of then-it girl Lovefoxxx of CSS who sidesteps the usual “Hey, I’m in a duet here” trap most boy/girl vocal collabs fall into with some messy, burning accusations that seem to catch Daddy Gillespie off guard. Then there’s “Beautiful Summer”, a should-have-been hit single and paean to a (possibly metaphysical) lost love as deeply felt as it is plastic in delivery, burning off like the heat of late August on the alluring later half of this concise song cycle.

The guests here are used perfectly, with none other than Linda Thompson shooting out the lights on the gorgeous “Over & Over”. To my knowledge, this is the heaviest The Scream has ever flirted with straight-up English folk, so why not draft in The Queen? Josh Homme steps in with some filthy guitar screeches on the simply awesome “Necro Hex Blues”, a song that could have benefited the preceding album greatly.

If “Zombie Man” and “Suicide Bomb” can technically be classified as missteps, then at least they’re a lot of fun. The percussion on “ZM” really might be the banging of trash cans and that slow build on “SB” is predictable but effective, with both tracks fitting right in to the glistening, paranoid tapestry this record weaves.

Bursting with dread, beauty, and cautious love, Beautiful Future is a truly modern, apocalyptic form of pop music that still may be ahead of its time over ten years after its release. It’s Primal Scream’s most concise, cohesive statement and is therefore often overlooked. Few would call it a classic in their pantheon. We do.

More Light, (2013)

  • Bobby Gillespie – vocals, tambourine, handclaps, mellotron, electric piano, drums, percussion
  • Andrew Innes – electric, acoustic, and twelve-string guitars, bass guitar, six-string bass, keyboards, electric sitar, synthesizer, autoharp, dulcimer, drones
  • Martin Duffy – keyboards
  • Darrin Mooney – drums, percussion

If you had to bet on the band that would release a stone cold classic over 30 years into their run, the smart money would have been on Primal Scream if you’ve been following their trajectory. But damn guys did really have to go this hard? While some veteran bands put out perfectly fine albums deep into their 50s/60s, here Primal Scream have lined up the competition against the wall, mowed them all down with machine guns, lit their bodies on fire, and shoveled their dusted remains into a hastily dug mass grave. More Light is so fucking good it can quite literally take your breath away in parts, from the sprawling psych juggernaut of “2013” to the soothing gospel rock throwback “It’s Alright, It’s OK”, with so many high points and so few stumbles that this could easily be contender for best Primal Scream album ever.

After condensing their sound into three minute danger-pop soundbites on Beautiful Future, here Gillespie and Innes (later, Mani) really allow their songs to stretch out and soar. No track is anywhere near three minutes. Some are as long as nine minutes. Dusty acoustic guitars are foregrounded and slathered in layers of bells, sitars, synth swirls, chants, digital fuzz; electric guitars are used only to swoop and swoon over the din. Bobby steps into all this in whispered apocalypse mode, expressing multitudes within one slurred word or sigh, digging beneath the topical into a well of universal longing that cuts as deep as it did anywhere on Vanishing Point. We are very far from the agit-radical “anarchists with synths” posturing of XTRMNTR, and on tracks like “River Of Pain” and “Tenement Kid” The Scream channel the bleak council estate existence of modern day UK life through the one thing that links all classes and political leanings: sadness.

Even the tracks that on paper shouldn’t work land right on this record. Take for example “Culturecide” with its whiteboi rapped verses and chorus straight from a 1991 Atari Teenage Riot track. Sounds horrible, right? And yet somehow this is close to the best track on the album, and the point where the bomb sound effects drop out and the screamed “cuuuuulllltttuuuurrrrccciiiidddeeeee” chorus comes in is the kind of Primal Scream headrush moment that keeps us coming back. Another one that doesn’t have the right to work the Gun Club cover, “Goodbye Johnny”, not because The Scream can’t spiritually connect with Jeffrey Lee Pierce but because punkabilly sleaze shouldn’t fit into the narrative arch of this record. But the glazed, echoey production, a song dunked under a foot of water, allows it to slot right into More Light‘s core aesthetics.

Along with “2013”, “River Of Pain”, “Culturecide”, and “Tenement Kid”, PS sprinkle in other career highlights as if they were afterthoughts. “Hit Void” might be the best thing they’ve recorded since “Higher Than The Sun”, taking the last seconds of The Stooges “L.A. Blues” and setting them to soar over a spine tingling four minutes of out-of-tune horn blasts and sliding scales of fuzz. “Hit Void” definitely wins for “Most Appropriately Titled Song” on this record. Buried deep in More Light‘s sprawl, ‘Elimination Blues” and “Walking With The Beast” take on a vibe that this fight band making fight songs has never been noted for: resignation. It’s more than romantic, more than cultural, more than metaphysical; it’s a resigned menace that can only come from years and years on tour, interpersonal conflicts, lost soldiers and hand-to-mouth living.

More Light also brings some of the strangest material this heavily-curated band has allowed itself to release. “Sideman” chronicles a wife-stealing Lothario with a haunted clarity and not a hint of glamorization, with a descending sitar line that sounds like a slow slide into hell. With its minimalist Autobahn groove and nervously downstroked riffs, “Turn Each Other Inside Out” could have been one of those compelling B-Sides that you wish had been kept on the record proper, so it’s great that they let it stay here with Bobby’s whispered “blood on the mystery, blood on the history” verse giving way to a screamed chorus like nothing they’ve laid down before or since. Even the most traditional song here, the closing “It’s Allright, It’s OK” should sound like a bit of a letdown with its Screamadelica throwback rock radio courting, but in the context of the record it works wonders as a soothing landing after a bumpy flight through many crevices of sonic mayhem.

Thus far the defining moment in Primal Scream’s discography, More Light is the perfect entry point for newbies looking to break into their widescreen vision, plus a clarion call for their always faithful hordes. The fact that it comes ten records and three decades into their run is stunning proof that age really ain’t nothin’ but a number after all.

Chaosmosis, (2016)

  • Bobby Gillespie – vocals; synthesiser
  • Andrew Innes – guitar; loops; plug-ins; synthesiser; dulcimer
  • Martin Duffy – piano; organ; vibraphone
  • Darrin Mooney – percussion

If you’re like me and love the dark pop jewel of The Scream’s catalog, Beautiful Future, then this latest album is for you. After the searching, searing expansiveness of More Light, The Scream scale things back a bit to focus on 3-minute, highly structured tracks that speak to PS’s often buried traditional songwriting expertise. Chaosmosis serves a number of important purposes, highlighting those songwriting chops plus proving The Scream is just as vital as they ever were and shall most likely remain so until they’re cast back to air/fire/water/earth. Since we’re comparing the two, it’s important to note that Chaosmosis contains more variety than BF, plus arguable less missteps. A killer mix could be made between the two that would make the case for The Scream as dark electro pop masters when not occupied by other forms of music.

The Haim-assisted “Trippin’ On Your Love” could very well be a Screamadelica outtake, less adventurous than that record but bristling with the same positivity and belief in transcendence through entities as simple as love and rock n’ roll. “I Can Change”, with its dusted vibe and prominent glockenspiel wouldn’t have been out of place on Vanishing Point. Arguably the standout moment here, “Where the Light Gets In” features a searing cameo from Sky Ferreira that finds her as far away from the pop queen mantle she was once set to inherit as humanly possible. That this filthy, druggy duet between a 50-something Gillespie and a 20-whatever Ferreira feels so natural and rings so true can be seen as absolute proof that age really ain’t nothin’ but a number after all. It’s one of the best tracks of their career, and that fact that it’s coming so late in the game makes one wonder if these bangers will ever stop coming from this band. In a genre where even The Stones ceased releasing relevant new music by 40, The Scream have clearly burned all expiration tags.

As on Beautiful Future, the real meat on this record is the dark soul tracks, thankfully appearing here in great number. “(Feeling Like A) Demon Again” is easily a contender for best paranoid mode Scream track, which is really saying a lot, only the paranoia here is not treacherous lovers, government agencies, drug induced panic, or general malaise; it’s paranoia about one’s own actions, one’s own bad capabilities, with a palpable fear creeping through on Gillespie’s whispered choruses. “100% Or Nothing” ups the tempo while keeping the desperate edge intact, the whole song a climax, and it’s a stunning achievement in studio-controlled chaos. Psych dirge “Carnival Of Fools” and relationship hell “Private Wars” bring the heat as well, with Bobby and Innes contributing some of their most mature and confessional songwriting to date.

The issue with Chaosmosis is not with Primal Scream; it’s with their audience. “Mature and confessional” may not be what Scream Heads necessarily want the most from this band, relegating the record to mid-tier on many’s discog rankings. But to these ears this record is a testament to their unwavering dedication to following their senses wherever they may lead. It’s daring, singular, confessional but obtuse, fits right in with their pantheon, and more than anything it proves that The Scream isn’t anywhere close to falling off.

We look forward to the records that make up Part 3.

 

Daniel Falatko