Saturday, 7 July 2012

Primal Scream - Vanishing Point 15 years on

Today (July 7th 2012) Marks exactly 15 YEARS since Primal Scream's astonishing 'Vanishing Point' was released. When I bought it on its week of release back in 1997, I had no idea that this record would change the way I listened to music forever...

I remember hearing 'Rocks' many times and after a bit of confusion over who it was I realised this was the band who also did that groovy 'Loaded' tune. But in 1997 when they ditched the bluesy soul rock of their mid 90's work for a darker, effects-soaked sound, word was that the Scream were about to deliver a great album. 

I can't remember where I first heard 'Kowalski', it may have even been on The Chart Show on ITV, since I hadn't discovered the Evening Session yet. Also I think an issue of Select magazine (much missed) or Q magazine may have written a review so ecstatic in its praise of the track that I felt i HAD to buy it. So after a trip to Woolworths to buy the 4 track CD single I was very impressed with the heavy rhythm, crunching beats and blistering sound effects, as well as the B-sides (completely transformed versions of '96 Tears' and The Clash's 'Know Your Rights') Back then Woolworths often used to sell cassette albums for £4.99-£5.99 during their first week of release, so when 'Vanishing Point' was released, I snapped up the album on the Saturday following its release.

After a bewildering first play of the cassette on the living room hi-fi, I decided that this album and its bizarre sounds would work even better on headphones, so that afternoon as the family went shopping in Bristol I took the album out with me and walked around the city centre with 'Vanishing Point' as my soundtrack. I knew I was listening to something I deemed 'weird', and the feeling of exploring exciting new sounds was very enjoyable. I barely removed my earphones all day, lost deep in a world of incredible and revelatory sounds. Along with other albums of the time (mostly purchased on tape from Woolworths) 'Vanishing Point' was played many times that summer and for the rest of the year in fact. Crucially the brilliance of this record turned me into a follower of the band, and reading Bobby Gillespie's interviews was a revelation, especially in terms of the music he would list as influences. So without Primal Scream I wouldn't have started seeking diverse music such as the MC5, Miles Davis, Curtis Mayfield, Can, and very importantly The Clash. Also the album's dub-heavy soundscapes turned me on to a lot of reggae music, dub in particular. Truly, 'Vanishing Point' opened up a pathway that led to a world of wonderful music that expanded my horizons.

'Burning Wheel' is an excellent opening track and sets the tone perfectly for the rest of the album. It begins with an extended intro of various strange sounds, some musical, some not. Some smart backwards percussion arrives along with a bassline similar to 'Rain' by the Beatles and then the stabbing beat comes in, along with Gillespie's hypnotic vocal. It's his vocals that (although they are at times minimal) have a tremendous effect on these tracks.

Elsewhere there's smart, sparse electro arrangements and slightly jazzy synth ('Get Duffy'), intense paranoia on 'Out Of The Void' (which breaks up side 1 and 2 of the album nicely even though on the CD version it segues into the next track) and the heavy claustrophobic dub of 'Stuka', with its astonishing ear-to-ear sounds (one of the many reasons this may be the best headphones album ever) and terrifying monotone vocoder vocals. Then there's the filthy, gritty, straight forward rock n roll of 'Medication', which comes across like a dirtier and much better relative of 'Rocks'.

Here's a slightly re-worked version of 'Stuka'.....

And then of course there's 'Kowalski', with its fierce, rumbling basslines and relentlessly heavy percussion (taken from Can's 'Halleluwah') contrasting well with the intense whispered vocal. The blistering blasts of noise throughout make for a most exciting and stunning moment. ''Star' is a sweet, soulful freedom song set to light drum machine percussion, Memphis horns, and glorious melodica before the mood is changed with the incredible 'If They Move Kill 'Em', which comes packed with demented sounds, blistering wah wah guitar, attention-snatching horns, filthy beats and a devastating bassline with funk crawling all over it. It was well and truly like nothing I had ever heard before.

And let's not forget the mental cover of 'Motorhead', with thumping techno beats, heavily distorted guitars and vocals being sung through a Darth Vader helmet. And the two final tracks the (perhaps overlong) 'Trainspotting' and the completely frazzled, retreating resignation of 'Long Life', which ends the album brilliantly.

Lots of different styles, different sounds, and an incredible album that could still influence many other people in the same way it did me...

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