27
Oct 99

43. PRIMAL SCREAM – “Kowalski”

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Tom Ewing’s Top 100 Singles Of The 90s

The main reason Bobby Gillespie ended up a rock star after all, and the main reason there’s something slightly offputting about that, is that he tried so damn hard. Primal Scream’s take on rock cool is so textbook it’s painful: the bewildering thing is that anyone acted surprised when Screamadelica‘s rivers of modernist beauty turned into Vanishing Point‘s fear-clogged, brackish dub workouts. In the world of B.Gillespie, the comedown follows the high with a Calvinist inevitability, which is probably why his paranoid invocations of insects under the skin and dead friends sound so bloody smug sometimes.

So if Vanishing Point the film, about a lone speed-freak hurtling across America’s highways with only a strung-out DJ and the police for company, had turned out to be some fiction of a cackling Gillespie’s, nobody would have been too surprised – it fits too well, is so instantly high-concept iconic that the quality hardly matters. That goes double after you hear “Kowalski”, which dovetails the film’s hook and Gillespie’s addled rockstar faith into five minutes of gorgeous noise. Each time I listen to “Kowalski” it has me forgiving its makers’ every stupid fuckup pose, in part because of Mani’s offhandedly monstrous bassline, a black-sheep cousin of the one Tim Simenon found for “Bug Powder Dust” but even tenser and scuzzier. With that in place, there’s little for the rest of the Scream to do but have their fun with radio buzz, test-tone bleeping, factory-issue echo beats and burning-tyre guitar screes, all subjected to riotous overuse. And even Bobby sinks to the occasion, dropping his usual weak croon for a spooked carcinogen whisper. The result is intoxicating, and never mind the mythmaking bollocks Primal Scream like to surround themselves with. You see, if you study cool as hard as Bobby G does, the one thing you’re bound to pick up is a sense of timing, and in early 1997, with the administration crumbling and the Britpop champagne gone decidedly flat, “Kowalski”s unforgiving blare in the Top Ten sounded absolutely perfect.

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