Thursday, March 26, 2020

"A relentless techno-punk onslaught"

When the Quietus put out the call for pitches on Primal Scream's XTRMNTR to mark the twentieth anniversary of the album's release, you just knew the resulting article was going to be worth reading. And sure enough, Lee Brackstone's assessment is an eminently quotable and spot-on assessment of "an album of such ferocity, anger and intuitive intelligence that it served as a kind of enema for the decade just past".

The record is, he argues, "rock & roll as apocalypse not salvation"; "an album of rigorous and remorseless intensity" with a "groove and aesthetic" that is "a Taliban cut-up of protest lyrics, millennial fury and the horror of a crippled, nihilistic drug comedown". All very true (and why I'm so fond of it) - and I also wholeheartedly agree with the suggestion that Kevin Shields' "aura of influence" was critical for the overall sound and impact.

What I don't buy, though, is Brackstone's evaluation of the rest of Primal Scream's LPs and XTRMNTR's place in their back catalogue. For a start, I'm no fan of Screamadelica, having been forced to endure it for Sounding Bored discussion purposes. "Now fashionably dismissed by the holier-than-hip crowd" it may be, but its "canonical" status has nothing to do with my dislike for its loose, simian swagger.

What's more, Screamadelica and XTRMNTR might be seen as bookends for the 90s, as "neat definers of what was happening in Britain's pre-millennial pop culture", as they are in Brackstone's thesis, but surely you can't (rightly) laud the sentiment behind 'Kill All Hippies' and ignore the fact that Bobby Gillespie and co were themselves hippies a decade earlier? Similarly, while XTRMNTR was in many ways "an enema for the decade just past", surely you have to acknowledge that by releasing the bloated, tediously rockist Give Out But Don't Give Up as a follow-up to Screamadelica, Primal Scream were partially responsible for ensuring that such an enema was necessary?

Vanishing Point is quite good, but XTRMNTR remains the only album of theirs that I genuinely love. It never fails to astonish me how they went from that and an electrifying performance at Leeds in 2000, to Evil Heat and an awful showing at the same festival just three years later. Credit to them for never standing still and continually seeking to do something different from album to album, I guess - but, for me, XTRMNTR stands out a mile as the one time they've actually led the way rather than followed fashion and hopped on the nearest bandwagon.

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