Primal Scream - Vanishing Point - Review
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critics' view

In a music magazine piece circa sometime in ’97, Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie finds himself at a small, private release party for Paul Weller’s then-latest solo album, the middle-of-the-road Heavy Soul. After a hearty, beer fueled listen through of the album, Gillespie mischievously raises a videotape he’s been clutching in his hand and offers it up as the Scream’s latest music video. In the tape goes and cue silence for the next five minutes as “Kowalski”’s Can-sampling, trashcan-banging groove comes crashing out of the speakers.

Leaving the room dazed and confused, Gillespie would later have his kicks when the single somehow climbed its way up into the UK top ten. Described as an alternative soundtrack to the forgotten “existentialist, speed freak, punk rock” (Gillespie’s words) movie Vanishing Point, thundering bass riffage fires away on top of a swirl of shuddering synths, screeching guitar washes and the aforementioned “Halleluwah” drum sample. Gillespie incessantly whispers “…Like Kowalski from Vanishing Point” until the song breaks down into manic ravings sampled from the movie.

It’s almost impossible to imagine such a free-form and uncommercial song hitting the top ten nowadays, and even back then, with fellow chart contemporaries the likes of Gary Barlow and long forgotten boy band North & South, it seemed like an unlikely choice. Primal Scream’s career can be marked by two instances wherein they merged the overground and the underground into medleys of disparate genres and cultural touchstones: the ’60s psychedelia mixed with ’90s acid house of Screamadelica and the Nuggets compilation mangled through Metal Machine Music of the anarcho-punk industrial XTRMNTR.

Existing in between the two, Vanishing Point is Primal Scream’s lost classic – a forward thinking album that just didn’t manage to have as clear a mission statement. If Screamadelica’s ethos was defined by “Loaded”’s admission of “We wanna get loaded and we wanna have a good time,” and XTRMNTR’s in the immortal “SHOOT SPEED/ KILL LIGHT,” then Vanishing Point is best summed up by “Burning Wheel”’s chorus: “If you could see what I can see, feel what I feel/ When my head is on fire, I’m a burning wheel.” Claustrophobic and dark, Vanishing Point acts as a soundtrack to both the lost ‘70s movie and Primal Scream’s inward journey to find meaning in a drug-fueled, end of the century word.

Vanishing Point sounds both of its time and completely out of time – an album whose somber mood seemed to also permeate throughout many of 1997’s other critical releases, but filtered through a remarkably different soundscape. While their contemporaries were slowly edging towards a more arena-rock, communal sound with the last vestiges of Britpop’s poptimism still in tow, Primal Scream looked towards a bold mix of dub, krautrock, noise rock, primitive electronica and movie soundtracks, making no concessions to the newfound “get yer rocks off” fans they picked up a few years prior.

Without a drummer to their name, most of Vanishing Point is powered by drum machines and samplers. Instrumental “If They Move, Kill ‘Em”’s ‘60s spy movie strut is gleefully matched with guitars ripped straight from Miles Davis’s ‘73 future funk classic, On The Corner. In fact, Miles is all over this album via sampled tablas, sitars and guitar skronk. “Out of the Void” takes all of these aspects and throws them into a brew of abstract noise and whispers.

Never a group to shy away from a good guest spot and a touch of hero worship, Vanishing Point is highlighted by reggae legend Augustus Pablo’s serene, blissfully washed out melodica and The Memphis Horns’ dubby trumpet and saxophone duo on “Star.” “Stuka”, similarly, mines old dub and reggae classics, combining pinball sounds sampled from Joe Gibbs and The Professionals and drums from Lee Scratch Perry’s “Upsetting Dub.”

Perry and Gibb’s pioneering dub production techniques can be heard throughout the album, even in The Scream’s pulverizing take on Motorhead’s “Motorhead.” Sung by Gillespie through a Darth Vader mask, industrial drums and heavily distorted guitars are pitted against drifting delay trails of screeching vocals and stereo panned blasts of noise. In hindsight, this cover could act as a glimpse into the more aggressive take on MC5 and Motorhead Primal Scream would adopt for future single, “Accelerator.”

With another nod to the silver screen, the Scream’s contribution to the “Trainspotting” soundtrack is also included. Acting under the same guise as its parent movie, “Trainspotting” is a chilled instrumental that was put up for consideration when Gillespie realized that the film hit a lot closer to home than expected – “Scottish junkies who worship Iggy Pop” could easily describe any member of the Scream as well.

Vanishing Point’s fidgety take on art rock sounds even more relevant in today’s unpredictable and deeply confusing world. Gillespie and co. dove head first into their inner psyches and conjured up an album that only sounds more outlandish and devilishly creative with each passing year. As the album’s closing track, “Long Life”, slowly fades into the sunset, Gillespie assures himself that, “I love to see you/ Sunshine/ Whenever I see you/ Good to be alive.” He can barely finish his sentences, deep in thought and lost in space as the world swirls in and around.

Edward Dunbar
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