Fucked, fucked, fucked, fucked, fucked, fucked, fucked, fucked, fucked, fucked, fucked, fucked, fucked, fucked, fucked. Rainforests, government shutdowns, my gas bill, the dentist, everything. Fucked. The deeper you reflect on that fact, though, the more you lose how fucked things actually are. Whether it’s Jonathon Franzen up at the fo’c’sle of his own self-importance or Al Gore clicking through to the next slide, stating the desperation of things at essay length and at depth codes the screaming, batshit horror of how fucked we all are under graphs, numbers, ideas, feelings — that is, burying our essential fucked-ness under exactly the stuff that has brought us to the point of being fucked.
Like, try emerging out of Freedom with any kind of idea of what’s going on. Getting specific is really just like describing the water in the Styx, and after all, the apocalypse really only punishes those beings with enough intelligence and pretense to realize what’s going on; Armageddon is even stupider than you dying and not having to suffer from knowing what that means, while you’re left deliberating your exit from a universe that has finally, and without much ado, drawn your number. Obliteration only really sucks if you’re trying to be smart about it.
Primitive Calculators aren’t alone with a strong understanding of how fucked the world is, but what sets them apart from just about everybody is their understanding of how to mirror it back in a way that captures fathomless absurdity in a drawn out-guttural sound (be it a bass note on a Roland or the word “cunt” gargled like so much Listerine), and The World is Fucked explodes with all the truth, simplicity, and pure righteousness of a sewer exploding, and I’m not even going to try and justify any further to you why that’s great. How they do it is a different question.
To that, first some backstory: Primitive Calculators were just one of a generation of unique punk and post-punk bands to come out of Australia at the tail end of the 1970s. You could start a brief walking tour of the era — touching on the likes of the secondmen Seems Twice, Canberra’s paranoid Tactics, weirdo nutbags Asphyxiation, and even the criminally neglected Laughing Clowns — and not even be out the door of the bus yet, but by nearly all accounts, Primitive Calculators were the rawest, the meanest, and the dingiest group to emerge out of the era.
The formula was simple: take a beat; up the tempo; uncomfortably overlay some disgustingly cranky guitar and one-note, fuzzed-out synthesizer atop in random, shifting fashion; and let the thing sit until it’s a force of nature, capping it with Stuart Grant’s cut-snake devolved yammering. Only a few 7-inches and a live album survived to document the gawky, dyspeptic fury they rustled at the time, but documents like this video of “I Can’t Stop It” tell you most of what you need to know. Other songs, like “Do the Icepick,” were delivered with the force of a crowbar flung across a room to pitiful levels of applause, recorded like the band was literally underground, trying to break the surface with an 808 kick.
Their name was perfect, because they had all of the primitive things that motivated proto-punk (repressed sexual fury, anger, ennui, depression) and harnessed it to the most future-primitive technology available, with an approach that was equal parts menace and intelligence. “I Can’t Stop It” is still one of the most powerful songs about domestic violence; every time Grant goes off his nut (“I’m gonna hit her!”), the deadpan voice of a friend responds with an admonishment with all the strength of getting flogged with a wet lettuce, before giving up and complaining (“I dunno”). No one’s springing to anyone’s defense here. It’s an entire world of abuse in two minutes.
If anything, they’re even more unhinged 35 years on. As such, The World is Fucked doesn’t skip a beat in being the studio mission statement that they never got around to last time, even down to the reliably unreliable typeset cover art. Grant’s vocals may have aged from the youthful sneer he had three decades ago into something more like Aggro after a carton of beer and a long period of waterboarding, but the cartoonish menace in his yowling is gleeful, like sinking a drink back while plummeting down a hill in a shopping cart toward four-lane traffic. Your ass is also on fire.
It’s hard to get a grip around this, actually. As the one-word track titles suggest, the concerns are more general. Take these: opener “No” fires out a buncha scabrous insults to match the eye-gouging raveup it sets and repeats from the get-go, before Grant starts screaming “Stick it up your arse!” for a full minute, which is probably the minute of the year. “God” mingles the “essentiality of the divine” and the “hidden sublime” with “God loves me and God loves me/ Me/ Me/ Fuckin’ me/ Cuuuuunt/ Halle-fuckin’ juuu-lyah.” When Grant hollers that he’s seen God, it’s more like he’s found that someone’s pissed all over his VCR. Closing Fugs cover “Nothing” spend the last minute of the record listing off every year in which the band has existed and suffixes the word “Nothing” to it. 2013? “Ha ha ha ha ha!” End of album. No moral.
Quoting a text back at itself is pretty lazy thinking and even worse criticism, but hey, I can’t stop it. Over-intellectualizing The World Is Fucked would be a case of missing the point on the level of the Nixon pardon, because the joy is so direct, the fear so complete, the kicking so hard that to experience this on a level other than the physical, the wide-eyed, and the moving is more a pity than a shame. I want to piss in the garden while blasting this with a beer in my hand when the world dies screaming, and if it takes Primitive Calculators another 25 years to make another record, it doesn’t matter, because music this smart and joyously violent is permanent.