Come Together as One
2 Sides of The Same Band: why Primal Scream’s Screamadelica and Exterminator are the same album, just flip-sides.
It is a new day
We are together, we are unified
And all for the cause
Because together we got power
Apart we got power”
(sample taken from a Malcolm X speech, Come Together, Screamadelica)
I must admit that the only other two albums I’ve heard by Primal Scream are their 1997 album Vanishing Point and their 2002 album Evil Heat. Both are decent albums but yet don’t really seem to sum up what I believe is Primal Scream as captured by Screamadelica and Exterminator; everything else I have heard by the band (the ‘Indie disco’ hit Rocks and the 2006 song Country Girl) have put me well off even bothering to listen to their respective albums. Thus, this is also by no means an attempt to write some sort of band biography, it is more of a longing to explain how much these albums seem to be sides to the same record; a very important record to our era; the naive-hopes and optimism of the post-Berlin-wall, freedom-and-good times-demanding-rave-scene early 1990’s turning into the hollowed-out-need-for-denial-hedonism, bitter-disillusionment, and fear of things only getting worse that all those promising earlier components found themselves in. Screamadelica (released 1991) is one side of the very same coin to Exterminator (Released in 2000) – the former dreaming of Utopian togetherness, the other waking up to a Dystopia, largely allowed to unfold due to an hollowing out and falseness of those very components.
To begin with, it is important not to dismiss the band due to it being appropriated into the Beer-swilling-football-style-chanting-loutish-Oasis-fan-laddism of the past 20 years, but also not to forget that those who one would associate with this image/lifestyle (mainly from the backgrounds traditionally working class) have had reasons for hiding behind this macho (I’ll-only-listen-to-bands-with-cocky-northern-frontmen) image.
It seems bizarre that it’s nearly 12 years since Exterminator was released; it feels as if there’s almost been a stagnation of time through the decade known as ‘the noughties’ from which the financial crisis, and its stark environs have awoken us (time seems to be moving again, although whether for better or for disastrously worse we cannot yet know). The more that time passes and Exterminator becomes older, the more it seems to sum-up western culture both at turn of the millennium and the years that followed it. Listen to Swastika eyes then the following track Pills, to hear an attack on the vacant nihilistic hedonism and denial of the growing inequalities/erosion of democratic rights/unjust (re)imperial wars, through an immersion in ‘big nights out’/recreational drugs/and phoney-togetherness.
.Not that any of us could be blamed for participating in such a stupor – denial often felt like the only possible avenue during the past 10 years; and as Charlie Brooker observed in his much-needed-for-terrestrial-Television comedy-cum-cutting-cultural-analysis ‘How TV ruined your life’, images of ‘the good times’ were being rammed down our throats to the extent that if we weren’t feeling like we were ‘living the dream’ 24/7, then something must be wrong – no wonder ‘uppers’ from the legal Red Bull’s/Pro Plus’s to the illegal Pills/Cocaine were needed by many of us just to get through the day.
Recreational drug-taking is the extreme end of that constant need to be pursuing hedonism, or at least ‘the good times’. This kind of lifestyle, after it took over from something a little more genuine and optimistic, as the early nineties became the Blair-year ‘BritParties’, used the same component’s to create a smoke-screen over reality, as darker things “best forgotten about” started to rustle as we approached The Noughties. Now, however, it’s harder to avoid the sobering truths behind the late-capitalist smoke-screen. Maybe (eventually) this will turn out to be a good thing. What choice do we have but to try to make it so anyway?
Back in 1991 the mood was different, Primal Scream’s Screamadelica (although not an endorsement for drug-taking) certainly embodies the mood of the period, and talks of drugs as something that can help ‘open you up’. Screamadelica’s mood is certainly one of an ‘inner flight’ of peace and love, as reminiscent of the hopes of the 1960’s as the psychedelia both in the guitar based and dance bands of the early 1990’s was. This is perhaps best exemplified in the track Higher Than The Sun.
Hallucinogens can open me or untie me
I drift in inner space, free of time
you aint nothin , you got nothin to say
shine a light on you, you fade away
woke up, felt drunk, throwin’ up, pissin’ blood
Think death, broke in, burnt out, holed in”
dead dreams……..Dead dreams…..Dead dreams”
“Dead dreams, dead dreams” – life has been hollowed out; can’t picture a future worth living in, so certainly can’t swallow the positivity of spiritual well-being spouted-out in previous years; take drugs to stay high to avoid the truth rather than search for it; like in A Design For Life by The Manic Street Preachers “we don’t talk about love, we only wanna get drunk”. No true hope in the long run, but if one can live a high life all the time, constantly pursuing pleasure it may build a precarious bridge over this underlying emptiness. This Erosion of democracy, from which we tried to hide, is the “illusion of democracy” in Swastika Eyes, the song before Pills.
A military industrial ILLUSION OF DEMOCRACY…
Swastika eyes swastika eyes swastika eyes”
.(Whilst looking for the song Pills on Youtube, I found that the user snowskrunch had use an image from Zero-Zero decade Indie popstar Jonny Borrell; an apt icon for a culture that turns away from the horrors commited in its name, hiding in retro-fashions/drugs/nights-out/Indie-cool. I hate to use the word Hipster, because it’s arguable that it extends to the entirety of Western Culture and not just some imagined pretentious young middle class kids, but when thinking of Jonny Borrell, it’s hard to think of another word.)
Come together as one……
For many the perfect-party-anthem Loaded is the highlight of Screamadelica, but for me it has always been Come Together. Whilst I listen to it, it can still dust down those ‘dead dreams’, and make them feel alive again. For me, it is the perfect fusion of Euphoria and genuine hopes (that we can sort things out, and life can be something more than this).
.So It felt like a cutting betrayal of those ‘moments of euphoria’ the song would often give me, when a few years ago parts of this song were used to advertise mobile phones for the ‘Talk Talk’ brand – using “come together as one” to advertise the advantages of mobile phone communication, even though the mobile phone, through it further privatising communication between one another, has arguably perpetuated the isolation of the human faster than any other device, except maybe the Social Networking site; maybe capitalism’s biggest enclosure act in 200 years – it will get the oxygen if it can! I think the fact that it has shared out hopes for a better world to me, is the reason why this felt like such a bitter betrayal; that it was now being used as part of a process that is taking every bit of that world away from us.
.This is how much I value this piece of music as something unbelievably special, and believe that its potency to be that still carries on. When I try to imagine a worst possible scenario, as a tester of whether I could cope with it, I imagine a scenario quite like the apocalyptic scenes in Continental European towns/villages during sieges in 20Th century wars, as depicted in films ever-afterwards. The church bells would always be ringing, as a stance against the gunfire and carnage going on around. In my imaginings of this similar scenario there is ash from burning things falling from the sky, and guns are firing, but Come Together is the song I’d play at full blast from an upstairs room, with the windows open, as a call for peace, and a halt to the violence.
.We’ve become cynical in our times to these sorts of words, but I feel that songs like Come Together are becoming relevant again, but with a more grown-up look at the hopes and optimism that were there in the 89-91 period. We’ve got a long way to go to get to this place though; I, for one, still lapse into momentary hibernations from reality, by using alcoholic softening, and the same old meaningless pop music I’ve been listening to for over 10 years on and off – the roads to the future we must strive for often seem too daunting.
Exterminator is the uncomfortable reality that Screamadelica woke up from; no wonder that many people turned a blind eye to Exterminator whilst the former is still talked about to this day. Many will say that this is because Screamadelica captured a moment; well, so did Exterminator, just a moment society tried to hide from. So, ironically, it seems likely that it’s unpopularity (in comparison with Screamadelica) is because it message about the Dystopia forming around us was an unpopular truth! Screamadelica may have captured the essence of high and forward-looking times; but hasn’t Exterminator captured the essence of the mass denial aided by the very components championed by Screamedelica? that we in the UK are now, hopefully, starting to wake up from? no more false assurances to each other that things are OK and we are living in a free country?
One would hope that the rerelease of Screamadelica this year, rather than merely being something the band and record label can make a profit off, can be symbolic of a return of some sort of hope; that we really ought to “come together as one” now, and quickly. An arts event named Pandemic which I have partaken in recently uses a quote by the Philosopher Bertrand Russel which also comes to the same conclusion: “extreme hopes are borne from extreme misery”. Now that we are (possibly) awaking, maybe something can be done about all this.
.It’s a long hard road back after being dumped by the vehicle that was pushing us to constantly pursue pleasure whilst depoliticised and desensitized to the world. But perhaps we can take comfort in the fact that it was mostly an illusion of good times, maintained due to the fact that one thought that they must be having ‘the good times’ all the time, which actually a larger causation of individual unhappiness rather than happiness during the past quarter of a century. I suppose (‘comrades’) we having nothing to lose but our ‘indie disco’s’ (and the equivalents).
Shoot, speed, kill, light……….
My friend got me ‘into’ Exterminator when it was a new album in the year 2000 (I had to hear Screamadelica as a record from a past time which only sprinkled nuggets of blissful optimism on me; the early 1990’s was an happy childhood for me, and I thought things would “Only get better” – urrgh). We got excited about the energy and anger (especially the “fuck, fuck, fuck, sick, sick” ending to the track Pills), and we knew that there was shit going off in the world worthy of such anger, but it always seemed a million miles away, it never felt like it was angry at the very culture we were being drip-fed on. I cannot recall anybody I encountered having a political agenda between the years of 16-22 of my life, aside from a ‘blatantly obvious’ scratching-the-surface-dislike of bad things such as the far right group the BNP, cutting forests down, and casual racism and homophobia overheard in town centres on a Friday/Saturday night – a rightfully-placed objection, conveniently soft-touching, so as to not dig up too much of that uncomfortable truth.
Having spoken to quite a lot of young people who have recently started F.E/H.E education/recently graduated, or haven’t bothered with any of this but have come of age during the last 2/3 years, it seems blatantly obvious how much more politicised they are and how unaccepting of the “capitalism is the only system that works” rhetoric we receive when we first find ourselves ‘naively’ asking “why do things have to be this way?” in comparison with those of us who reached that part of lives in the 10 years previous to the financial crisis.
Yet, I do not believe that this politicisation of the youth is just down to the recession and the ruthless cuts to welfare; yes it is the banner that they chant under, but these issues have merely made an open door for them to look and be horrified at (to use the famous phrase) ‘the desert of the real’. This is the ‘glorious’ century that awaits them, and they know that they probably won’t even have the chance to drink, dance and deny it’s happening like those before them. If many before found it disturbing to open doors further down from the ‘Iceberg’s Tip’, the financial-crisis-kids are having to enter the world through those very doors. High tuition fees, and other things that deny them mobility, perfectly cap a hideous array of social, economic, environmental problems that, because they cannot escape like the young professionals of the 80’s and 90’s could, will have to be tackled, together. Does “Come together as one” sound so dated and corny now?
I’m not saying that this current crop of young people are our only hope, and it is sadly without-a-doubt that the marketing/publicity that has bombarded these youths is more intense than the life-long-course-in-how-to-be-a-slave-to-capitalism that we received, as is the case for my age group in comparison with those before me and so forth; the omnipresence of imagery that lures one into the consumerist mindset grows and grows, to open more doors for capitalism’s insatiable thirst for more and more growth. However, the anger and politicisation is in itself an hope that new things are afoot, contrary to what everyone told us in the years following Thatcherism, that “there is no other way/there is no hope of the sort any more”. “New things are afoot” was what a friend of mine (one of the creators of the Pandemic event idea) said to me, when I said how I fear being defeated from within, like my parents and their contemporaries were defeated by Thatcherism (even more cutting coming from an area directly affected by her defeat of the Miners Union) – and he is right, we won’t be, whatever happens now.
Shoot speed kill light, the last track on Exterminator (UK edition) possesses the anger and energy of the rest of the album, but there is something massively encouraging in this song. Initially it became the song stuck in my head when I was leaving High school, thus the soundtrack of that moment. You expect something exciting to happen after you leave school, it feels like a moment when all will change, you’re too naive to realise that things won’t change that much at all, and people still treat each other the same, and have the same opinions (at least until they reach 20) “no togetherness, stick your headphones in a run away from reality”. It was also the turn of the millennium, and our naive 16-year old selves expected life to get nicer and better as all the hollow aspirations and optimism’s of the late 1990’s fooled us into thinking. In 1999 I can remember that me and my fellow school friends used to joke about how we expected to see spaceship-like-flying vehicles appear in the sky as the clock struck 12 on the evening of the 31st of December, but behind these jokes was a serious expectation that our lives would be better, humanity would be better! A mega-comedown, finished off by the 9/11 terror events – the life truly did become an escape from reality, whilst dreams began to die off.
But dead dreams and fading hopes (which are wrongly labelled as ‘just growing up’) can become momentarily alive again whilst listening to certain songs. After the dystopia revealed in the rest of Exterminator, Shoot, Speed, Kill, Light is like a surge towards a better world, the world you can tell Primal Scream have never stopped dreaming of. Earlier on in Exterminator, in a calm moment in the middle of the storm of anger, Keep Your Dreams warns us to “be careful” not to sell our souls, and give in. Now, with Shoot, Speed, Kill, Light it feels like a call to all to get up and surge forward to get those dreams – it is the song that Vanishing Point, on the album Vanishing Point seems to have considered being, but just wasn’t ready yet.
When I’m listening to it on my walkman whilst walking I get the urge to start running, faster and faster down the road, but never actually doing so due to the social taboo of expressing oneself in this manner. But this feeling emerges because of the sheer forward drive of the song; it uses all the energy of the album, and it feels like it is pushing through it all, moving to a different world, where things have changed for the better. It is fully modernist in its forward drive, never looking back in a search for a beautiful future. The words ‘Shoot, speed, kill, light’ conjure up images of smashing right through something; breaking the speed of light – demanding the impossible! It is almost that, as it turns the anger into a truly forward looking energy, it does full-circle and catches up with Screamadelica.
It has often been said that Primal Scream are capable of masterpieces and absolute crap; perhaps, whilst this reaction is harsh, it is maybe appropriate to dismiss the rest of the music in order for the masterpiece, created by the joining of Screamadelica and Exterminator to be complete. As the rest of Exterminator calls for us to wake up (something we are showing slight sings of doing), maybe the last track Shoot, Speed, Kill, Light calls for us to press forward now – a call from 12 years ago to right now!!
Maybe this song is the Geist of what The Now should mean. Which is why I make reference to the politisation of the youth (as well as an unchannelled discontent emerging in many previously defeated by Thatcherism): because it has an air of something of this sort about it. I always find that talk about spiritual well-being, as embraced in Screamadelica, a good thing, but useful for a world which has moved past the era we are in, to a place where this is actually achievable for the majority, not just a few who find their own way out. Have we awoken to Shoot, Speed, Kill, Light’s ask, a realisation 12 years too late but better late than never, to push forward to this world? If so, maybe after the push, and we’ve arrived at this place, will the spiritual well-being of all be found, and we can truly appreciate things like Screamadelica again, full-circle.