There’s been a lot of celebration for the 20th anniversary of Primal Scream’s breakthrough album Screamadelica and, sure, I can understand why. Released on the zenith of the rave revolution, the album came to define both poles of the smiley-faced culture — the dancey and smooth sounds of electronic outfits like 808 State and the more rock oriented strain of bands like the Stone Roses. Bobby Gillespie and company crafted an album that condensed an era in its groovy, sample-happy guitar vamps. Personally, I don’t think it’s that good. Side A is stellar, no doubt about it, but around the time “Come Together” appears, the album starts to drift towards long pieces revolving around clichés of the era (diva vocals, chill beats). And that’s not mentioning Mudhoney’s superior use of the sample from the movie The Wild Angels.
On the other hand, 1997’s Vanishing Point takes the sound and approach of Screamadelica and goes deeper into its druggy corridors , letting them resolve into their natural conclusions, no matter if they lead to dark and heavy territory. The album is as eclectic as its guests (The Memphis Horns, original Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock, and Jamaican dub legend Augustus Pablo), but it has an atmosphere that ties everything together. It contains a cover of the song “Motörhead” that sounds closer to Hawkwind than Lemmy’s subsequent band, while “Medication” is an irresistible Stonesy boogie and opener “Burning Wheel” is a dubby layered song of narcoleptic grandeur.
It also represents a musical step forward, although it’s one that happened without the larger public noticing it. Vanishing Point married the tradition of psychedelia — from the space rock of early Pink Floyd to the experiments in terror of Psychic TV — with well defined songs, but it most importantly revolutionized sound with its approach. Primal Scream usually wrote songs and then played with the results, and many of them would rise from warping and reusing old material. They were one of the first rock bands who didn’t think their guitars and recordings were holy, and they committed sacrilege in the name of creativity to produce something superior, even if it meant mangling their most celebrated artwork.
Here’s the video for “Kowalski”, based on the movie that gives this album its name, which I also recommend.