Psych album of the week: Spiritualized’s Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space (1997)

Jason Pierce doesn’t do confessionals, so the third Spiritualized LP isn’t necessarily about what you might think it’s about

Spiritualized

Left: Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space. Right: Kate Radley and Jason Pierce of Spiritualized.

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The English band Spacemen 3 once released an album called Taking Drugs to Make Music to Take Drugs To. That’s an amusing title and probably pretty accurate as far as Spacemen 3 was concerned. Of course, you don’t have to take any drugs to enjoy music; music is arguably its own kind of mind-altering substance. For those so inclined, however, we offer the following as a must-hear… with the added bonus that Spiritualized main man Jason Pierce was formerly a member of Spacemen 3.

As tempting as it can be to read any songwriter’s output as confessional, that’s usually a mistake. Case in point: Spiritualized mainman Jason Pierce. Back in his Spacemen 3 days, for example, the artist also known as J Spaceman penned drone-rock hymns with titles like “Walking With Jesus” and “Lord Can You Hear Me?”

Pierce has continued to flirt with Christian imagery throughout his career. He even titled Spiritualized’s 2003 album Amazing Grace. (That record featured such selections as “The Power and the Glory” and “Lord Let It Rain On Me”.)

On paper, that makes the English musician sound like rock’n’roll’s answer to Ned Flanders. When the AV Club asked him if he had ever had a religious experience, though, here’s what Pierce had to say:

I don’t know if I have. I think religion is about belief. You either have belief or you don’t have belief, you know. You can believe that the earth is the center of the universe. You can believe we revolve around the moon. You can believe anything. That’s what religion is. I don’t believe I’ve ever had that.

“Jason Pierce of Spiritualized”, AV Club, 2008

Broken-hearted Spaceman

By the same token, the third Spiritualized LP, 1997’s Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, isn’t necessarily about what you might think. Pierce famously recorded the album after his breakup with bandmate Kate Radley (who stuck around long enough to play keyboards on it).

At first blush, Ladies and Gentlemen could pass for a breakup record. Consider “Cool Waves”, which seems to be directed at a departing lover. Amid the lush and gorgeous interplay of stately strings, brass, and gospel-inspired backing vocals, Pierce sings “Don’t think you’re crying/But there’s teardrops in your eyes/If you gotta leave, you gotta leave.”

Consider, also, the elegiac “Broken Heart”. The singer admits to being in a state of emotional devastation, but insists, “I’m too busy to be heartbroken/There’s a lot of things that need to be done.” (Like making one of the best albums of the 1990s, one assumes.)

Pierce has long since put the record state on those tracks. They were written, he says, before his breakup with Radley, and are most certainly not about it.

The tracks of time

All of which is a rather long-winded way of saying that Spiritualized has never specialized in confessional songs. One of the most enduring topics in Pierce’s songwriting is his supposedly rampant appetite for narcotics. Whether or not he’s exaggerating is between him and his (nonexistent) god, but he sings with enough conviction to make it clear he has indulged at least once. Maybe twice.

“Little J is sad and fucked,” he snarls on “Come Together”; “First, he jumped and then he looked/The tracks of time, those tracks of mine.”

Elsewhere, on “I Think I’m in Love”, Little J is a bit less “sad and fucked” and considerably more sanguine about his supposed opioid avocation. “Love in the middle of the afternoon/Just me, and my spike and my arm and my spoon.”

Ambivalent musings about intravenous drug use do not necessarily a psych-rock masterpiece make. Ladies and Gentlemen fits the bill, though, from the title track, which finds common ground between Elvis and Pachelbel, to “Electricity”, a searing blast of garage rawk complete with honkin’ harmonica.

Sonic psych-out

“All of My Thoughts” is one of the LP’s prettiest, songs, drifting along on a few layers of keyboards. At the two-and-a-half-minute mark, however, Pierce and co. seemingly throw every instrument in the studio into the mix, creating a sudden blistering column of noise. It’s beautiful.

Trippest lyrics

“Free as the water and air that I breathe/Even freer than DMT/Feel the warmth of the sun in me” (“I Think I’m in Love”)

“Cool waves, wash over me/Cool water, running free/Lay your sweet hand on me/’Cause I love you” (“Cool Waves”)

In their own words

“If there was an idea behind it, it’s that it wasn’t just a collection of songs, that it read like a symphony, with a coda, epilogue, recurring themes”. (Jason Pierce, interviewed by the Independent)

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