Reviewed by Joe Lockard
Wednesday, June 14 2000, 1:24 PM
Primal Scream emerged in 1991 as a leading edge of the British acid rock scene, their vehicles being the Screamadelicaalbum and live tours. They became writer Irving Welsh's favorite band and their contribution to the Trainspotting sound track gained Primal Scream more international exposure. The underlying strain of anticolonialist and nationalist Celtic ideology that accompanied Primal Scream in its earlier years has continued forward into less specific but forceful elaborations. If there is often a provocative and welcome sense of outrage in this music, that content does not overwhelm the musical experimentalism.
While a strong politics is visible, Primal Scream lives by its music. There are few bands that can burn, rant and fire up its audience while still remaining in full and finely nuanced control of their musical space. Primal Scream is that unusual sort of band.
XTRMNTR's first track, 'Kill All Hippies', circles about with multiple layers of thin electronic noise lines, giving only a hint of the full throb that the following tracks generate. Primal Scream prides itself on replicating its name through noise levels that surround and envelop listeners, such as 'Accelerator.' When it does kick out at full throttle, Primal Scream works hard on complex sound engineering that pushes its lyrics into the sonic forefront, unlike bands that just jack up the decibels Deaf Club-style into acoustic nether regions where sound solidifies and eyeballs crystallize and shatter. Typically, a solid rhythmic sense frames intermittent choruses and a rock craftsmanship is very evident.
The 'Exterminator' track zooms straight out of the English underclass world of public housing estates and barely suppressed social rage. Over a threatening bass beat from Gary 'Mani' Mounfield, a clear set of lyrics outlines the disciplinary system of a world framed by ultraviolence and claustrophic class barriers. The heavy thrum carries a menace, a gray tone that imposes an acoustic grimness. This song is the closest that the album comes to a lead anthem; its suggestive acoustic environment carries as much expression as the lyrics. In 'Swastika Eyes,' a driving song with a rising and falling electronic pitch backed by hums and drums, lead singer Bobby Gillespie tosses angry bolts about the military-industrial complex and "the illusion of democracy." Together with 'Exterminator,' this is one of the most dominant efforts here.
Tracks like 'Pill' and 'Insect Royalty' mix in rap, but not to the more impressive effect of other tracks in this album. It's an unsuccessful grab for street radicalism, a bit of syncretic musical slumming that doesn't even seem to convince the band. The facileness with which Primal Scream briefly floats through rap style points to a fairly common grab for a brass ring of emancipatory possibility via aesthetic copycatting. But as Paul Gilroy argues so convincingly in Against Race "Market-driven black popular culture is making politics aesthetic usually as a precondition for marketing hollow defiance." Primal Scream does not manifest any convincing claim on rap; rather, they are much more successful on their own stylistic territory, with instrumentals and a well-defined lyrical direction. Instrumental tracks like 'Blood Money' and 'MBV Arkestra' rise to numbing symphonic effects by developing a synergy between drumming and synapse-tripping electronics.
Primal Scream does not come off quite as well either when they operate at lower decibel levels, as in 'Keep Your Dreams' and 'Insect Royalty.' Their energy and talent emerge better when the floor starts shaking, when dancers cannot resist their Primal urges. The instrumentals in the latter section of this album rework the peculiar combination of percussion and electronics that have come to characterize Primal Scream's style. To this, the Chemical Brothers contribute a remix of 'Swastika Eyes' that emphasizes a pared-down percussive potential that lay latent in the first version on this song. By the end of the album, I was sinking into a fixating maze of aggressive electronica and rock. When Primal Scream works to educate ears in new possibilities, they succeed.
XTRMNTR is an Astralwerks release