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street regal

Street Regal

Part clown prince, part sonic avenger, Bobby Gillespie speak loudly and weilds a big, funky stick with a new, noble-minded version of Primal Scream.

by Jason Ferguson Photos by C. Taylor Crothers

According to Primal Scream's Bobby Gillespie, there are only two good rock 'n' roll bands left on the planet. Not surprisingly, the outspoken singer counts his group as one of them. His other choicethe band to which Primal Scream's new album is dedicated-may be a little less obvious.

"There aren't any other bands out there playing rock 'n' roll-just amazing, high-energy rock 'n' roll bands," he says. "well, there's one band. Royal Trux would have to be it. They're absolutely fucking amazing. One of the best bands I've ever seen in my life. Every other band out there is just a bunch of 1974 tossers; lt's straight guys playing music for straight guys, and rock 'n' roll has never been about that. It's about crazy, romantic, angry people, and all these other bands around are just so boring it makes me sick. Fuck them all. I hope they all die."

Ah yes, the triumphant return of Bobby Gillespie's big mouth. As a long-favored target/quote-generator for the English press, Gillespie has never been one to shy away from speaking his mind. And, for the decade-plus his band has been creating its many varieties of musical revolution-psychedelic house/rock; dubby experimentation; balls-out, drugged-up rock classicism-he's had plenty to talk about.

Although such ego-tripping braggadocio has become typical among less-talented Brits, the one advantage Gillespie has over his fellow Melody Maker cover dolls is that the music he creates with Primal Scream isn't only good, it's also, more often than not, stunning. with the release of Exterminator (Creation/Astralwerks), Gillespie has cemented his reputation both as a firebrand and as a musical mastermind. But you won't hear it from him.

"It's all about the rhythm section, really," says Gillespie. "It was absolutely incredible. Mani (ex-Stone Roses bassist Gary 'Mani' Mounfield) was just so fucking incredible on this record. It's wild, really, just high-energy, controlled violence."

The credit-sharing, however, doesn't stop there. In fact, although Primal Scream whose current lineup includes Gillespie, Mounfield, keyboardist Martin Duffy and guitarists Rob Young and Andrew Innes-always exists under Gillespie's vision, Exterminator is more of an encapsulation of all that's good In British rock, circa 2000. WIth appeamncesainspiration/extended assistance from regular cohorts like Kevin Shields (who now seems more interested in Primal Scream than My Bloody Valentine) and Adrian Sherwood, as well as new partners like Liam Howlett (Prodigy), Jaki Liebezeit (Can), Bernard Sumner (New Order), David Holmes and the Chemical Brothers, Exterminator is less a summation of influences (like some Primal Scream albums have been) than it is a glorious musical free-for-all.

"People would just show up, you know, and get involved with the record," says Gillespie. "I mean, there were always people in the studio playing or sharing ideas or whatever, so it was really open."

Though Gillespie gives credit to everyone but himself, the reason Exterminator is such a stellar album is because Primal Scream has become a stellar band. The feedback-strewn psychedelia of its earliest post-Jesus And Mary Chain recordings (Gillespie briefly served as the Mary Chain's drummer) gave little hint as to what was to come. As the lazy, over-influenced eccentric pop of 1987's Sonic Flower Groove (lightly produced by the Red Krayola's Mayo Thompson) and the classicist jangle of 1989's self-titled album (with tracks like "Ivy, Ivy, Ivy") matched the band perfectly with dozens of other identical outfits, Primal Scream seemed no more or less interesting than scores of other groups polluting London clubs at the time.

The release of 'Screamadelica' in September 1991 not only changed the way the world looked at Primal Scream, it also changed the way the world looked at music. Though Gillespie admits he may have been aware of the revolutionary stance he was taking with the album, he hardly could have known he was ushering an entirely new way for rock bands to make music. It was with 'Screamadelica' that we first witnessed a successful collision of the seemingly incompatible worlds of rock music and house music. In a world of "rock vs. disco," the album was sheer revelation, merging dubby, house-influenced rhythms with blindingly thick riffs and pure pop catchiness. House remixes of indie-pop songs? Sure Dub tracks and jangle on the same album? why not?

With 'Screamadelica', Primal Scream helped to mainstream a previously underground way of thinking: If you're influenced by it, and it's good, put it in. If it's supposedly incompatible, make it compatible. It worked. Too well. Its success in Europe (the album was considered "important" in the U.S. but was far from a hit) put Primal Scream on the map and turned Gillespie and Co. into a non-stop touring machine. Needless to say, a bunch of house-loving rock stars on the road is a recipe for some rather overwhelming drug use, and Primal Scream didn't fail to impress with its prodigious intake. Soon, the band became more known for its substance abuse than for its music, and frequent noshows and slurred interviews became the norm. Gillespie's welsh rage manifested itself often and, eventually, the band became a bit of a joke.

Things got worse. The three-year lapse between Screamadelica and its follow-up led, naturally, to what Gillespie calls "unrealistic expectations." True to its contrarian nature, the band released Give Out But Don 't Give up in 1994. A pale imitation of Faces-style rock bawdiness (apparently, the Primals thought that if they stayed as fucked up as the Faces, they could rock just as well), the album was a meandering mess. As was the band. Members rotated in and out during the disastrous touring schedule until Gillespie finally applied the brakes and Primal Scream stopped for a minute to catch its breath. Heroin addictions were overcome. Ecstasy-and-cokeaddled hangers-on were ditched. "The best fucking bassist on the planet" was added to the lineup in the form of Mounfield. Then, Primal Scream hobbled its way into making another great album, 1997's Vanishing Point.

"We weren't really sure what we were going to do (with Vanishing Point)," remembers Gillespie.

"But with Mani and with a better attitude, we knew it was going to be interesting. Things were a little shaky when we were recording, but we basically just kept holding jam sessions until we got it together."

Though the band's shakiness is certainly evident on Vanishing Point it's also quite clear Primal Scream had gotten a new lease on life. Blithely merging the balls-out rock fetish of Give Out with the heady, dubby experimentalism of Screamadelica, this was the album that should have come out three years earlier. Feet firmly in place, the Primals let longtime partner Sherwood have a crack at Vanishing Point, and he emerged later that year with Echo Dek, an album that defied categorization. Although theoretically a "dubplate" of tracks from Vanishing Point, the record certainly stood on its own. However, the sublime trippiness of Echo Dek was scant preparation for Exterminator.

"We really just wanted to make an album that represented what it's like to be in Britain in this day and age," says Gillespie of Exterminator. "And, obviously, from our standpoint, it's not great to be in Britain in this day and age. So if the record seems angry, it's because that's how living in this fucked-up society makes us."

Exterminator is an album that's positively exploding with rage. From the opening onslaught of "Kill All Hippies" (this from the band that once recorded a song called "May The Sun Shine Bright For You"), Primal Scream's position is clearly stated: Bourgeois apathy will not be tolerated. Though there are no direct lyrical references to the situation, it's assumed Gillespie's recent activism on behalf of Satpal Ram (an Indian jailed in Britain after defending himself during a hate-crime attack) has invigorated the singer to consciousness.

"Well, that's a little stupid," Gillespie laughs.

"Of course the Satpal Ram situation] makes me angry, but you've got to be fucking blind not to see the corruption going on in Britain and the fucking U.S. now. The military is just a corporate-fucking defense squad, and America is taking over the fucking world. And we're not just stupid idealists, either. It's just that we got sick and tucking tired of nobody realizing how bad things have gotten in Britain. we're not trying to be activists. We're just writing about what we know."

Bristling with venomous gestures, Exterminator pulses with an energy never before heard from Primal Scream. "Swastika Eyes" rails against nationalism, while "Accelerator" reinvigorates punk rock for Y2K. On some of the lovelier numbers, like "Keep Your Dreams," there's still an undercurrent of political upheaval. Hell, even the turgid, instrumental swoon of "MBV Arkestra" seems like a statement about something. Yet, for all the focused societal anger that emanates from Exterminator, Gillespie insists this album was by far the easiest he's done with Primal Scream.

"It was a fucking blast, man," he exclaims.

"Although the album is more intense than Vanishing Point], it was much easier to make. The last album was a new way of working for us, and we had just gotten Mani in the band. But this time, it went even better. This time, we had a lot more confidence. We definitely had more energy."

Which is hardly surprising. For a largely clean-and-sober band, brimming with ideas and philosophical anger, surrounded by friends and idols ("working with Jaki Liebezeit was one of the most amazing things I've done," gushes Gillespie) and spurred on by the non-stop hypercreativity of its leader, making a great album was not only expected. It was unavoidable.

Originally appeared in Magnet Magazine, Aug/Sept 2000.
Copyright © Magnet.