Listen: Swastika Eyes / Primal Scream
Yesterday’s Super Furry Animals post had me recollecting those last few years of Creation Records’ partnership with Sony. During summer ’99, Alan McGee was shopping for one of the US outlets to release the upcoming XTRMNTR album by Primal Scream. So he brought Bobby Gillespie into the New York office to play me a few tracks. As often as Primal Scream had changed direction, so too did I change my interest in them. Given their most recent sound at that point was directly influenced by Rolling Stones style blues rock and despite the resulting single ‘Rocks’ achieving by far Primal Scream’s biggest US radio breakthrough yet, this Southern boogie woogie couldn’t have been further from my musical palate in ’99. So I was rather uncomfortable about wasting Bobby’s time. Alan insisted otherwise, that instead I would love where XTRMNTR was heading, being well aware of my insatiable taste for dance, techno and the like.
Was he ever right. This album wiped the floor with all their previous material including SCREAMADELICA. Most critics still attach to that one, and in the bigger picture, I suppose I agree. But for Primal Scream specifically, nothing touches XTRMNTR. Alan suggested I visit Bobby and Andrew Innes at their Primrose Hill studio to hear the finished version. The place was jammed tight, and jamming out. Besides listening to the album, we found plenty to agree on in general: The Cramps, Suicide, and a bottomless pit of records. Easy conversation when it came to musical history, plus any reason to go to London.
‘Swastika Eyes’, the single and album version produced by the band and Jagz Kooner, actually takes my preference over The Chemical Brothers’ mix, also included on XTRMNTR. In fact, my belief was this track could perform as well as ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’ or ‘Setting Sun’ had for The Chemical Brothers at radio in the States, with Primal Scream coming off the back of their biggest US airplay record as well. Suspiciously, senior management at Columbia agreed after a quick conversation of presenting said theory. The green light was on.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, ‘Swastika Eyes’, by then at #22 in the UK Pop chart, was too controversial, too insulting, to issue here. Huh, this from the company that changed music with Bob Dylan? This from the company that was having platinum success with Nas? Honestly guys, was spineless suddenly part of the label’s character description? Now in hindsight, having dropped 50 Cent around then too, it clearly was play it safe.
Turns out the whole idea was moving forward based on the Southern boogie style of ‘Rocks’, and when so and so finally got round to listening to the music, it was easier to stubbornly remain rooted in the musical past than embrace tomorrow. Indeed, a policy good for Our Lady Peace, but not Primal Scream.
Keith Wood over at Astralwerks, who released the album in America, didn’t have any such corporate trappings.