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Friday, January 11, 2008 

Caught in the vortex

One of the nice things about getting a bit older is being able to re-evaluate albums that I listened to a lot when I was a teenager. In some cases they don't seem to have the charge they used to, whether because I've since found better replacements for them, or my taste has changed, or I just burned myself out on them at the time (it's hard to tell). It's been more productive, enjoyable and fun to go back to ones I found muddled or unsatisfying at the time, especially as I seem to like those more now.

Primal Scream's Vanishing Point is an almost perfect example. I loved, loved, loved "Kowalski" when I heard it, and the album is responsible for introducing me to the film and to Flannery O'Connor, both of which I adore. But as a seventeen year old I had a fairly rigid idea of how albums worked (what a relief, to find that in some ways at least I'm getting more flexible as I age!) and also didn't have the patience for the kind of genius that "Trainspotting" exhibits (as opposed to the dumb but thrilling cover of "Motorhead").

"Burning Wheel," for example, fit the idea of the sort of thing I would have expected to see at the end of an album. The damn thing takes two minutes to lumber to its feet, out of the murk! It's the kind of self-consciously expanded pacing I was used to encountering only after several more conventional tracks, and it wasn't helped by the fact that the song never builds to anything more determinate or pithy than "If you could see what I see, feel what I feel / When my head is on fire, I'm a burning wheel." I love the track now, especially as a forerunner to the many self-loathing lyrics on XTRMNTR as well as for its druggy whirl, but the slackness of focus at the time I took for damning.

But I was at least able to appreciate "Burning Wheel," as opposed to the one glaring error that makes Vanishing Point as issued one of the most glaring missteps of 1997. "Get Duffy" isn't a horrible track, I guess - at 4:10 it's at least twice as long as it should be, yes, but it's kind of pleasant. But it's also the kind of thing that is almost designed to be shoved into the last four minutes of a thirty minute last track index on a CD, one of those odious 'hidden track' things that everyone did once they figured out they could on CD without much difficulty. Primal Scream instead shoved it into the second place spot, killing whatever momentum "Burning Wheel" painstakingly builds as surely as Kowalski's own sudden impact in the movie that gives the album its name. These days I just skip it or, when adding it to the iPod, leave the track out altogether (I feel no guilt over this), but at the time my impulse wasn't to skip it so much as put something else on entirely. The other two instrumentals on Vanishing Point are good - in the case of "If They Move, Kill 'Em," among the best tracks they've ever produced, so why shoehorn such a tepid slice of soundtrack stuffing into that essential second spot?

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Ian Mathers is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Stylus, the Village Voice, Resident Advisor, PopMatters, and elsewhere. He does stuff and it magically appears here.

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