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White Noise: 4 Great Albums for Winter: #1 Spiritualized

Monday, 21 November 2011

4 Great Albums for Winter: #1 Spiritualized

Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space

Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space

I Think I'm In Love

Broken Heart

Cool Waves

Ladies and Gentlemen isn’t just an album, it’s an odyssey. Anyone who has spent a lot of time with Spiritualized’s greatest release will understand what a mammoth undertaking it is to take these songs apart and discuss them. It’s a profoundly moving album showing consistently excellent musicianship across the board, and describes a tight narrative arc across its twelve songs. The main theme here is addiction and loss, in relation to both love and drugs. As a result, the album is a series of wired highs and crushing lows, interpretable either as the peaks and troughs of an intensely passionate romance or the transcendent highs and desperate comedowns of a heroin addict’s life. The whole piece could be seen as a masterful expansion of the musical and lyrical ideas displayed in The Velvet Underground’s seminal Heroin, of a near-powerless and desperately delusional man trying to grapple with forces far stronger than himself, the intensity of his love and the complicated relationship with his drug of choice. Adding to this the real-life story of frontman (and open ex-addict) Jason Pierce losing his girlfriend Kate Radley to The Verve’s Richard Ashcroft in a secret wedding, Radley’s role on the keys and her iconic opening vocal sample seem all the realer, more painful, and more human.

The varied musical styles across the album are enough to make anyone fall in love, with Jason Pierce commanding a full band and even a gospel choir to chart countless corners of the rock spectrum, from Come Together’s thrashing hard rock to the heart-wrenching classical-tinged ballad Broken Heart. Along the way he encounters genres such as blues and jazz, and uses the classic ‘freak-out’ in songs like All of My Thoughts and Cop Shoot Cop... to depict the mad, out-of-control highs and contrast them with more the more considered instrumentation representing normal life. The music in these songs tells just as much of the story as the raw and affecting lyrics; take for example Home of the Brave, the complex self-pitying comedown after Electricity’s crazy high where confessional lyrics like open wounds and a pathetic yet hopeful vocal refrain are slowly choked by a wash of raw instrumental noise, rising unstoppably into the next drug-fuelled peak of the album. Elsewhere look to the superb swung lullaby Stay With Me, where a blissed-out Pierce intones ‘I love the way you’re mine’ and the gentle guitars cocoon the listeners with Pierce in his bubble of denial aand delusion.

The music keeps the album endlessly exciting and innovative, and there is far more to say than I could possibly write in a single article, but it is still in the lyrical content that Pierce packs his heavier emotional punches. Unlike a number of other writers on this list who appeal to the listener through complex poetry and imagery, Pierce goes straight for the jugular, relying on the rawness of his words and the undying sincerity of his vocal style to appeal to the listener’s emotions. And god, does it work. It’s completely impossible to comment on all the amazing ways Pierce uses his words to really make the listener feel with an uncommon intensity, but I can certainly try and pick out a few favourite moments. He is a master of creating simple phrases that will stay with you long after the song has finished, such as the beautiful line that repeats all the way through the title track, ‘all I want in life’s a little bit of love to take the pain away’. In other places he shows himself near-poetic in his style, such as the schizophrenic call-and-reply in the second half of the drugged-up and jazzy I Think I’m In Love. For nearly two minutes he calls out his most optimistic feelings and thoughts and rapidly undermines each one in quick, cutting phrases; ‘I think I can fly / probably just falling / think i’m the life and soul / probably just snorting...think i’m alive / probably just breathing / think you stole my heart now, baby / probably just thieving’. It’s a masterful lyrical section that affects the listener both through its concise and pointed form and through the tragic truths of his situation.

When Pierce really wants to break the listener down, he does it with beguiling simplicity. A few of the tracks here are enough to make anyone cry, as in the hopeless monotone of comedown anthem Home of the Brave; ‘sometimes have my breakfast right off of the mirror / and sometimes I have it right out of a bottle...I’m gonna rip it off / tear it out / got to get it off of my soul’. The saddest song in the collection is also the very lowest point of Pierce’s intense emotional journey, where all the guitars and jazzy instruments drop away for the pure strings and organ-keys of the tragic Broken Heart. In this suffocatingly atmospheric ballad, Pierce contemplates the impossibility of action in his heartbroken state; ‘I have a broken heart / I’m too busy to be heartbroken / Lord I have a broken heart’. It’s deceptively simple but these vocals will pierce straight through to the heart of any but the coldest of listeners, resulting in a song of uncommon power.

This is an album where each track deserves to be given a huge amount of time, because each in their own way adds brilliantly to the story that Ladies and Gentlemen tells. And though every listener will have their favourites, for me the penultimate song Cool Waves is the best of all. Pierce again employs the sweetest and simplest lyrics in this love song about letting go; “Baby when you gotta sleep, lay your head down low / don’t let the world lay heavy on your soul / ‘cuz when you gotta sleep, you gotta sleep”. Each verse is beautiful and direct, and the transcendent chorus is a sad testament to a love that can never be, and the nobility of the lover who knows when to let go; “Babe you know you gotta be, and let your light shine through / and let your light shine through / and don’t let anybody tell you what to do / ‘cuz babe you gotta be, you gotta be”.

This wonderful track leads into the complex closing epic Cop Shoot Cop... which ends the album on a very ambiguous note, combining wry lyricism (“hey ma, there’s a hole in my arm where all the money goes / Jesus Christ died for nothing, I suppose”) with large-scale freak-outs reminding us of the hits and comedowns we’ve experience across the album.  It’s a perfect ending to a perfect album, and there’s not really alot more to be said. If you haven’t heard this masterpiece, I recommend you go out and get it immediately. If you have heard it, then you probably love it, and I suggest now’s as good a time as any to dive back in.

4 Great albums for winter:
#1 - Spiritualized
#2 - The Antlers
#3 - Beach House
#4 - Joanna Newsom

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