Meet the new year, same as the old year....
Meet the new year, same as the old year. Radicalism doesn’t pay, complacency’s at an all-time high, so keep your head down, smile for the cameras, mind your language and stick to the Third Way. The music scene’s not so hot, either. That we could do with a fully plugged-in, turned-on, fucked-off Primal Scream at this point is hardly front-page news; for ‘Exterminator’ to pulverise the senses with quite such righteous, incendiary beauty most definitely is.
Nineteen-ninety-seven’s ‘Vanishing Point’ was an impressive but predominantly bleak renaissance. More pertinently, Bobby Gillespie didn’t appear to be on half of it, a serious problem considering the man is both Primal Scream’s inspirational divining rod and public conscience. But his agitated spirit pervades ‘Exterminator’ and percolates throughout the record’s ferocious assimilation of a host of customised Scream modes: chemical funk, free-jazz skronk, cosmic rock, molten noise. If it had a colour, ‘Exterminator’ would be blinding white, the colour of detonation and redemption and, above all, purity. “I’m going down to the underground”, sings Bobby on ‘Keep Your Dreams’, the album’s keystone and a hymnal stab of hope amidst the vitriol, “as deep as I can go”.
It’s time, they’re saying, to take sides. Opener ‘Kill All Hippies’ lays bare the dichotomy “You got the money, I got the soul” before ‘Accelerator’ wastes the opposition in the heat of Kevin Shields’ scorched guitar policy and Gillespie’s ecstatic exhortation to “Come on! Come on!”. This infernal marriage of The Stooges and a just-launched Intercontinental Ballistic Missile suggests Shields has been pivotal in the Scream, pushing themselves ever further towards the extremities of sound. The title track, meanwhile, is a marvellously insistent loping groover, rife with hysterical synth blasts and Gillespie’s alliterative spiel: “Septicaemic interzone/Psychic distortion/ Satellite sickness/TV junk… No civil disobedience”.
The notion that our lives are orchestrated by a global capitalist cartel won’t ruffle the denizens of yer local Marxist bookshop, but in the realm of contemporary pop music a song like ‘Swastika Eyes’ is a devastating deviation from the conformist norm. Why The Chemical Brothers’ mix was released as a single over the pulsating mayhem of Jagz Kooner’s version remains a mystery but at least the latter is afforded its rightful prominence here, highlighting among other things the propulsive bass genius of Gary Mounfield and Bobby G’s fondness for the word ‘syphilitic’, which duly appears on two further tracks: ‘Pills’, a queasy bathroom-mirror rant (key refrain: “Fuck, fuck/Sick/Fuck, fuck/Sick/Fuck…”) and the aforementioned ‘Keep Your Dreams’, where the sorrowful swirl of Joy Division’s ‘Decades’ receives a narcotic makeover.
Indeed, for all the celebrated outside input aside from Shields, whose stunning ‘MBV Arkestra’ mix of ‘If They Move Kill ‘Em’ makes a not unwelcome reappearance, there are contributions from David Holmes and The Automator, plus thank you’s to Liam Howlett and Can’s Jaki Liebezeit none is more telling than Bernard Sumner’s unmistakable guitar on the closing ‘Shoot Speed Kill Light’, a euphoric flight away from the preceding madness and, by implication, towards a better place.
You might consider it a shocking indictment of our times that the angriest, least compromised, most utterly justified pop record in years has been made by a group of people nearing the age of 40. And you might be right. But you simply can’t deny the deranged majesty of Primal Scream and their ‘Exterminator’. It’s war you can dance to.