By David M. Goldstein | 7 August 2008
Oh to be a fly on the wall during a Primal Scream brainstorming session. Just what exactly is it that factors into their decision to record shitty fake Stones albums as opposed to the awesome electronic rage that they’re clearly capable of? How is it that they can put out one of the said retreads six years after they’ve already annihilated home stereo equipment with XTRMNTR (2000)? Reliance on tarot cards? Magic 8-Ball? Actually, I’m guessing band meetings more resemble five oldsters huddled around a table with the last six months’ worth of NMEs in hand, marking off the hot-t-t-est producers with a yellow highlighter. When said producers return their phone calls, we get good stuff like XTRMNTR and now Beautiful Future. When they don’t, hello Riot City Blues (2006). In no other working band does the choice of (or lack of) producer so dictate album quality.
The lucky zeitgeist mongers this time out are Bjorn Yttling, the Swedish lunchmeat between slices of Peter and John (“Young Folks” y’all), and Paul “Phones” Epworth, the O.G. of Bloc Party remixes, and named producer on nearly every NME approved record in the past two years (e.g. Kate Nash, the Rakes, the Rapture, etc.). Unlike, say, a noise terrorist like Kevin Shields, Yttling and Epworth are unabashed pop guys, so it stands to reason that Beautiful Future is the Scream’s Big Pop Album, rife with über-shiny sonics, myriad ’80s synths, and cracklin’ drums that speak to the producers’ club-centric tendencies. And like everything Bobby Gillespie’s crew touches, it’s ridiculously overblown, often cheesy as hell, and even the slightest bit offensive—and nobody who’s been a fan of this band since Screamadelica (1991) would expect any less. These are the same assholes who once dedicated a song onstage to Hezbollah, so no surprise that the opening title track is a pop confection that blithely references “gas chambers” and “naked bodies hangin’ from a tree,” while track five is called “Suicide Bomb.” Diplomats they ain’t.
But the allure of this band has always lain in wretched excess, and Beautiful Future does not disappoint. Primal Scream remain completely in on their own joke, consciously milking their cheeseball tendencies (“I pulled a needle from my arm / And stuck it in my baby’s heart!”) to the point where they begin to resemble high art. They (or at least their producers) are also armed with a boundless imagination and apparently a huge budget, all in the name of a brand of ridiculousness that their more highbrow brethren refuse to touch. Does Future really require a duet with British folk icon Linda Thompson on a Tusk-era Fleetwood Mac song? Goddamn right it does. How about hiring the singer from CSS for added sex appeal? “Billie Jean” drums on a populist anthem bemoaning office life in favor of partying uptown (“Uptown,” natch)? “China Girl” synths and hand claps on a song entitled, and I can’t begin to make this up, “The Glory of Love”? Yes, yes, yes, and YES! Cocaine is a hell of a drug.
The weakest effort here is unquestionably “Zombie Man”: akin to Vanishing Point‘s (1997) “Medication” in that it’s a pointless Stones rip on an album that requires none. But Simon Lebon would surely sacrifice one of his yachts for a smidgen of the red-light hedonism that Beautiful Future contains (and without a Timbaland credit in sight). Victoria’s Secret ad men and Joanna Angel take note: “Suicide Bomb” and “Beautiful Summer” had to have been written with leggy lingerie models and/or alt.porn starlets in mind. The former sports a jagged guitar lurch and pounding drums suggestive of the mattress mambo, and Bobby Gillespie is the only rock star on the planet who can credibly get away with a breathy incantation like “If looks could kill / it’s murder one / I’m goin’ off like a suicide bomb,” before proudly trumpeting “I see the beauty in everything!” “Suicide Bomb” is the greatest update of Love and Rockets’ “So Alive” that nobody realizes they ever needed, and the horror-movie organ slow burn of “Beautiful Summer” (as in: “Summer of love / she was my lover / now she is gone”; c’est domage!) is nearly as good.
The majority of Future‘s other tracks are similarly excessive and equally banging. First single “Can’t Go Back” supplements the multi-guitar squall of XTRMNTR track “Accelerator” with a big Kaiser Chiefs “ooh-whoa-ooh” hook; “I Love to Hurt (You Love to Be Hurt)” is more club-ready sex n’ death with CSS’s Lovefoxxx and a saxophone solo (!); and “The Glory of Love” is a stupidly hand clappin’ good time that ’80s keyboard god Howard Jones could probably appreciate, if not Peter Cetera. The only noticeable weakling aside from “Zombie Man” is slight album closer “Necro Hex Blues,” a one-plane rocker that despite featuring Josh Homme on guitar, is little more than an Evil Heat (2002) C-side.
As with every Primal Scream album reliant on expert producers, it’s impossible to tell to what extent the tail is wagging the dog here, but no matter. Primal Scream have always served as a cipher through which a powerhouse production squad can peddle their wares; Yttling and Epworth have succeeded in making the Scream enjoyable and vital again, hardly a sure thing after the embarrassment of Riot City Blues. Gillespie and Co. have already stated they’re looking forward to the next Primal Scream album, and I have some suggestions. Get Mutt Lange to produce. Hire his wife to duet on a Back in Black (1980) song, preferably “Let Me Put My Love Into You.” Def Leppard’s Rick Allen should somehow be involved. I won’t hesitate to slap a 99 on that motherfucker.