could almost feel the cold, disapproving glare of fellow Stylus writer Nick Southall as I plucked down the hard cash for Dirty Hits. He had given me advice along the lines of “don’t pay more than $1 for it,” and here I was shelling out about $25 for it on import—breaking my own self-imposed “never pay more than $15 for anything” rule in the process as well. Why do I do this to myself? I had no real need for Dirty Hits—I already had pretty much all of the hits on their original Scream full lengths. I offered myself any number of rationalizations—need it for the new track (err, new remix), need it for the second disc of previous remixes, “this is what real fans do,” but really, these are not excuses. The only excuse and explanation I have is that I’m just a greatest hits junkie.
Maybe because I used to have such strict beliefs against them—“it’s about the albums, man!”—but I can’t get enough of these things. I think that hits compilations like this should be used as rewards for fans, saying, “you bought all our albums, all of which had some filler or lesser material, so enjoy this disc of nothing but classics.” I bought The Smiths’ Singles when I already had every single song from the compilation on another album or compilation of theirs—but it’s by far the most consistently wonderful Smiths CD available, and the one I’ll always use to introduce others to the band for the first time, or listen to myself when I want to be reminded of how great the band is.
Unfortunately, it’s not quite so simple with Dirty Hits. All of the classics are here, pretty much, but I’ve found myself totally uncompelled to listen to it. If a band is great, I should be able to listen to their greatest hits an infinite number of times without getting sick of it, after two or so listens I felt I had gotten all I could out of Dirty Hits. What happened?
In concept, the disc starts out beautifully, with an untouchable opening lineup of Screamadelica-era singles. Some Primal Scream purists might cry foul over the continual air-brushing of their pre-“Loaded” career, but really, how many of those songs deserve to be on this compilation? I suppose they could’ve made room for the 84 or so seconds of pop gem (and Stone Roses precedent) “Velocity Girl,” but besides that, do any of those songs measure up to those included here? Not really.
“Loaded,” “Movin’ on Up,” “Come Together” and “Higher Than the Sun.” These are four of the most heavenly singles of the 90s, and listening to them consecutively, I figured my heart was going to implode. But it’s an unbelievably clumsy way to start—Screamadelica flowed better than any album of the decade, but placed in the order previously stated, the four highlights of the album bump into each other and end up just sounding awkward. What’s worse, they use blasphemous edits of “Loaded” and “Come Together,” songs that could’ve lasted on for pretty much all of eternity without ever having their hypnotic grooves broken. The seven minutes for “Loaded” was nowhere near enough as is, and shortened to four and a half, it’s reduced from towering lead single to awesome instrumental interlude.
Then, unfortunately, the Give Out But Don’t Give Up snafu is represented here by three of the better tracks on the album. “Rocks” and “Jailbird” are, just like they probably were in 1994, fine tracks indeed, but coming after the four previously mentioned is such a drastic shift that more than representing the strengths of the album, they just remind everyone why GOBDGU was such a flop when it was released. If the band could have put a little more thought into this, they should have included the album’s title track, a (legitimately!) funky jam with George Clinton and Denise Johnston which was intimidatingly sinister and ridiculously awesome, the one track from the album which still stands up today. It would have worked to disprove what the Scream proves so effectively with the three selections here.
Then Primal Scream turns into PRML SCRM with the Vanishing Point-era tracks. “Burning Wheel” is thankfully stripped of its annoying two-minute intro of weird shit, but “Kowalski” is given the “Loaded” treatment and robbed of much of its glory. Although the neglecting of cooler-than-Jesus single “Stuka” is a pity, the inclusion of album closer “Long Life” is a nice surprise, revealing itself to be one of the band’s most beautiful tracks and a wonderful counterbalance to some of the more outplayed singles.
The Scream’s wise judgement continues into the XTRMNTR tracks, including the blazing singles “Swastika Eyes” (Jagz Kooner version), “Kill All Hippies” (Linda Manz dialogue regrettably truncated) and “Accelerator,” all of which can still really beat the shit out of you. They also include album track (and once again, closer) “Shoot Speed/Kill Light,” the Scream’s earth-scorching epic collaboration with New Order guitarist Bernard Sumner, which by my account, is still some ten or fifteen years ahead of all other musics at this point in time. It’s probably the Scream’s best album track, and essential to any best-of compilation of theirs—good call, boys.
Evil Heat, the band’s last album to date, is a regrettably forgotten masterpiece. Seen by many as a transition album (myself included), it’s also one of the sexiest, most awe-inspiring transition albums I’ve ever heard. Its ridiculously enjoyable eclecticism is finely represented here, starting with the industrial chaos and campy fun of lead single “Miss Lucifer,” segueing into the WHAT THE FUCK? “Deep Hit of the Morning Sun,” still probably the sickest, most perverse track ever on a Scream CD. Then there’s the new “Some Velvet Morning,” the latest single pulled from Evil Heat, included on the disc s the draw for Scream fans- considering it’s difference from the version found on Evil Heat. And believe me, it’s a big fucking draw. The original SVM was awesome enough in the hands of longtime Scream Team member Andrew Weatherall, but when Kevin Shields and Jagz Kooner take the reins, it just gets more breathtaking, basing the song around an extremely unlikely harpsichord (take that, Björk!) hook, and riding an even sleeker beat than the original’s, stopping occasionally for some stunning breakdowns. It’s probably in my top ten of singles this year.
Dirty Hits makes the right choice for closer, ending with the Kraftwerk-inspired “Autobahn 66,” which takes its obvious precedent and drives a bulldozer over it a couple times. It actually makes for a good bookend with “Loaded” at the other—the two songs are pretty much the same, just with a decade in between.
In the end, Dirty Hits is a fine collection of tracks from one of the greatest (in the truest sense) bands of recent years. But apart from the new SVM and maybe the UK version of “Come Together” included here, there’s no real reason for you to buy this—as a single disc introduction to the band, Screamadelica and even XTRMNTR still work better. The songs are uniformly great, but they are poorly organized and often unfortunately edited, making Dirty Hits inessential at best.
Please people, don’t waste your $25. It’s too late for me, but you can still save yourselves.
Oh yeah, the remix disc is a clunker. I somehow forgot, all remix albums are boring.