Spiritualized - Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space
1997 was something of a high-point for music. Radiohead’s OK Computer is the album we are not allowed to forget, but two equally masterful, if less well known, records were released that same year: Primal Scream’s Vanishing Point and Spiritualized’s Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space. In fact, remembering this trio, every musical year since seems somewhat disappointing.
It’s hard to think of another album as broad in scope as Ladies and gentlemen. In terms of length (70 minutes, not one of which is unnecessary), influences, and the sheer number of musicians and different instruments used, it oozes majesty.
By contrast, the main lyrical themes are simple: love and drugs. Heartbreak pervades the album. On All of my thoughts, J. Spaceman (otherwise known as Jason Pierce) sings, “Don’t know what to do with myself, coz all of my time was with you.” There is a general sense of honesty and directness to the words. Broken heart begins, “Though I have a broken heart, I’m too busy to be heart broken/ There’s a lot of things that need to be done,” although, by the end, any attempt to put on a brave face has failed: “I gotta drink you right off of my mind/ I’ve been told this will heal given time.” The vocals float over a sea of classical violins, and a lone, cinematic horn. It is a devastatingly beautiful piece of music. Admittedly, there is an air of self-indulgence to all this, but also undoubtedly a subtle wit at play.
The eight minute I think I’m in love begins as ambient electronica, near opiate bliss, but mutates into a full-on psychedelic groover (brass aplenty, gospel choir) where the purpose, in part, seems to be second-guessing anyone who thinks Pierce might have his head up his arse. “Think I’m the life and soul/ Probably just snorting.” And let us not forget the album’s limited edition pharmaceutical packaging. Foil had to be burst to get at the CD; the sleeve notes were advice on how to take this medicine. “Spiritualized is used to treat the heart and soul.”
Cool waves and the title track both have a lullaby quality. The former shares the same sentiment as Spiritualized’s best known song, Stop Your Crying, with Pierce doing the soothing. “Baby, when you gotta sleep, lay your head down low/ Don’t let the world lay heavy on your soul.” It’s certainly overblown (in arrangement), overstated (lyrically), and designed to put a lump in your throat, but, hell, does it work. Pierce doesn’t falter when it comes to wearing heart on sleeve, and, like all good spacemen, is willing to go as far out there as it takes.
It’s not all calm, however. There is plenty noise on this album. Come together and Electricity are the rockiest songs. The latter is built on a hook, seemingly stolen from I’m a Believer, which struggles against a squall of guitar and harmonica as the track becomes progressively more frenzied.
Some of the louder moments are instrumental and seemingly jazz-inspired. The individual is little more than a cacophony of horns, albeit with a warm tone running underneath, the storm before the calm of Broken heart; while the wonderfully titled No God only religion has something of a wedding vibe about it, with its tolling bells and dizzy air of celebration.
Cop shoot cop..., 17 minutes of trance-blues, closes the album, and doesn’t spare any indulgence. There’s a false start, lyrics like “Hey man, there’s a hole in my arm where all the money goes/ Jesus Christ died for nothing, I suppose,” and five minutes of complete instrumental breakdown. Intriguing doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Ladies and gentlemen is a work of genius. It’s not just the way the beauty of certain tracks can’t be put into words, or the sheer imagination at play, but the sense that from start to finish the album has been conceived as one piece. It’s as if Pierce has presided over the record like a great classical composer. Everything but the kitchen sink may have been thrown into it, but nothing feels out of place, as tracks are arranged to flow seamlessly or contrast violently with the one before. This is one record you’ll want to listen as a whole, or indeed one pill you’ll want to swallow whole.
Arguably the best album of 1997? How about arguably the best album of its decade? I’d like to recommend Ladies and gentlemen to everyone, but, as the sleevenotes say, “Never give it to others. It may harm them, even if their symptoms are the same as yours.”