Primal Scream has one of the most fitfully brilliant and regularly frustrating discographies of any band in the past 20 years. After two so-so albums, the band finally struck a vein with “Screamadelica”, winning the inaugural Mercury Prize and beating out Bobby Gillespie’s former band, The Jesus and Mary Chain, in the process (Gillespie was once their drummer). It was a game-changer barely a notch below the same era’s “Nevermind” and “Loveless” in terms of scope and influence, deftly blending rock and roll swagger with the hip sounds of house music. “Higher Than the Sun” remains a high point in music history. To be obvious: the band’s narcotic intake was pretty legendary.
The band inexplicably followed that success with the Stones-aping “Give Out But Don’t Give Up”, which to most was a disappointment. “Vanishing Point” moved back to a more agreeable sound, and is a minor triumph, but no one was really prepared for the band’s next move.
The news that reclusive My Bloody Valentine wunderkind Kevin Shields had been added to the lineup as a semi-permanent member was pretty exciting in itself, and “XTRMNTR” was an exhilarating success. The band sounded newly focused and energized, and this is one hell of an adrenaline rush. “Swastika Eyes” (it appears on the album in two forms; The Chemical Brothers’ mix being marginally less successful than the Jagz Kooner one) is a thrilling barnstormer, controversially criticizing “American international terrorism” but still managing to crack the British singles chart. “Kill All Hippies” is a slinky, sexy groover with a cheekily confrontational slogan for a song title. That leads into the album’s strongest track, “Accelerator”, which easily ranks as one of the most propulsive pedal-to-the-metal rock classics of all time, sounding like a mutant collision of The Rolling Stones at their hedonistic best, in the red “Raw Power”-era Stooges, and pure amplifier fuckery. It has surely put a strain on my car speakers. “Keep Your Dreams” shows the band is capable of moments of beauty within their maelstrom. Closer “I’m 5 Years Ahead of My Time”, while not the band’s best, is a well-deserved boasting of the band’s forward-looking panache. After an album this compelling, the guys deserved a victory lap, because they were certainly running circles around the younger cats. Too bad they haven’t released anything this great since, but I wouldn’t count them out just yet.