A slew of significant albums all came out in 1997 – Sam Walton is revisiting each one on their double decade anniversary
The inclination for more high-minded musicians to cite “imaginary films” as the perfect setting for their music is so long established today that it’s become something of a cliche. By the start of the 1990s, however, Brian Eno was just concluding his run of three successful ‘Music For Films’ albums, and electronic music, in its post-acid house comedown, was starting to emphasise more than just rhythm, splintering into genres that invoked a certain cinematic scale. Couple that with the slow rise of post-rock and trip-hop with their inherent scene-setting qualities, and Britpop’s obsession with the aesthetics of 1960s cult movies such as Get Carter and Bullitt, whose ice-cool soundtracks were as famous as their stars, and by 1997 we had reached peak “music for an imaginary film”: dreaming up accompaniments for non-existent movies was no longer the preserve of niche electronica types and vinyl hoarders, but also of the artsier end of white British guitar music.
In this context, then, how refreshing to encounter ‘Vanishing Point’, which inverted the well-worn trope: here, for once, was an imaginary soundtrack to an actual film (1971’s hippie/existential car chase flick of the same name) described at the time by Bobby Gillespie as an “anarcho-syndicalist speedfreak road-movie record”, replacing the film’s original country-rock and soul cues with something far darker and (depending on one’s interpretation of the film) more fitting to the movie’s nihilistic sense of spiralling freedom: swathes of fuzz and reverberant dub basslines pepper the first half, abstract blasts of electronic noise swoosh around the speakers throughout, and the entire album is beset by a fuggy, foggy sense of psychedelic paranoia that’s periodically interspersed with moments of rather beatific calm. It’s not quite a concept album – there’s none of the slavish attention to detail here that they require – but still, conceptually, ‘Vanishing Point’ represented a huge step up from the the tepid Stones pastiches of Primal Scream’s previous album ‘Give In But Don’t Give Up’. Indeed, in hindsight, ‘Vanishing Point’ is as big a reinvention and artistic statement as the band performed for ‘Screamadelica’.