The first CD in three years from Glasgow's former acid-house masters Primal Scream explores the interface of fascism and pop culture with drive, drones, and mantras. Xtrmntr is tough, exciting stuff, a mélange of influences and attitude that, like other Scream albums, is as original as it is unsettling. Like 1997's terrific and underrated Vanishing Point, Xtrmntr occupies a shadowy post-nuclear terrain in which culture is monocular, monophonic, and totalitarian. In "Swastika Eyes," singer Bobby Gillespie rails against (and yearns for) the allure of a girl (or a culture, or information) with "swastika eyes," a vivid image blending appeal and repugnance. In "Pills," he rocks the house with Dr. Octagon, dissing false prophets, trust, and the war machine. The music overlays oddball, dreamy electronica onto hard rock drums, Gillespie spewing loveless lyrics.
The music, nervous and nervy, is all over the board; there's quasi-orchestral stuff, like "Blood Money," a metrically challenging instrumental in which horns act as brakes on the rhythm section, with keyboards swirling uncontrollably over the top. There's "MBV Arkestra," a loping instrumental that, at first, seems to occupy acid-house territory, then devolves into supercharged Isaac Hayes soundscapery. It rocks, loops, and transports. On the Chemical Brothers remix of "Swastika Eyes," the vocals are far closer to the front, lending a brighter danger to the track.
Some jarring instrumentals go on awhile, and because they're so ambitious and difficult to dissect, they can be trying. But overall, this disc is cohesive, suggesting a concept album that seems concerned with the media's control over culture. What's odd is that after -- and despite -- all the variety, Xtrmntr is very much a rock and roll record. It is angry, subversive, and defiant; the antecedents in style may be Isaac Hayes, Stax-Volt, and the Stones. But the antecedents in attitude are the Stooges, the MC5, and perhaps Nirvana. The core of Primal Scream has been together since 1985, so you can bet Gillespie (who used to drum for the Jesus and Mary Chain) and his key cohorts are no longer kids. But Primal Scream still makes music of uncanny power, proving how much of a motivation desperation can be.