While we were all busy celebrating America’s independence by scarfing burgers and slurping brewskies, the British were firing back — not with gunfire but with the latest volleys from the British Invasion of the last year or two. American rock feels restricted to a tattered post-grunge shirt, but a new generation of Brits continue to use rhythms, noises, loops, and samples to expand the definition of the increasingly amorphous term rock & roll. Three new albums from the U.K. prove America may have won a few battles, but in 1997 we’re losing the musical war.
Techno knob twiddlers aren’t the only enterprising musicians in the U.K. Even those rooted in rock traditions — pop hooks, guitars, neurotic lead singers — are moving toward a grandeur not heard since the days of art rock. Oasis’ upcoming album Be Here Now is said to include songs as long as ”Stairway to Heaven.” They’ve already been beaten to the punch by Radiohead, whose new single, ”Paranoid Android,” runs over six minutes long. With its celestial call-and-response vocal passages, dynamically varied sections, and Thom Yorke’s high-voiced bleat, this torturously long and winding ode wants to be nothing less than the ”Bohemian Rhapsody” of the ’90s.
No British Isles band this decade has been more experimental, often to its own detriment, than Scotland’s Primal Scream. Slithering from ambient to ’70s boogie, they primarily served as a case study in the fine line between eclectic and directionless. But their intoxicating theme instrumental to last year’s Trainspotting — a groggy meeting place of mood music and rock grit — felt like a fresh start. And Vanishing Point, their fifth album, more than follows up on that song’s promise.
Imagine a bunch of woozy Scots jamming in a Middle Eastern techno club in bustling Piccadilly Circus, and you have a rough idea of the swirling, hypnotic acid-trip electronica of Vanishing Point. From the sublimely elegant horns on ”Get Duffy” to the punky rip through ”Medication,” the album is incessantly inventive but always grounded. ”Trainspotting,” which is reprised here, is just one of many numbers (the B-movie sleaze of ”If They Move, Kill ‘Em” is another) that treat instrumentals not as filler but as edgy mood pieces. The album is a kick especially on headphones, where the speaker-to-speaker shifts, tablas, organs, computer squeals, subway-rumbling noises, and other sonic window dressing can be fully enjoyed. Singer Bobby Gillespie’s blissed-out lyrics — like ”Star,” his ode to fallen civil rights leaders — are a bit hippie-dippie. But words aren’t Vanishing’s point. Forget electronica; we may need a whole new term for this record. Exotica, anyone? A