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I hate flutes. They're for hippies and pansies and Morris Dancers, right? And they remind me, to the point of a cold shudder, of ill advised early teenage excursions into acid jazz. If a band can use flutes and me still be into it then that's either a minor miracle or a sign of a faultless ear for near-perfect musical arrangement. In the case of the excellent Delgados' Peloton, where the flute is used very heavily, it is both of these things. Spiritualized are also one of this breed: an extremely well loved, tasteful flute-offender.
Now, this album doesn’t have a tonne of flutes, but each Spritualized record does have a kind of gimmick to a degree; something that Jason Pierce has decided he likes and uses quite a bit, at least for a few songs on each album. On Lazer Guided Melodies, for example, and, appropriately, Pure Phase they used a phaser on all the vocals and anything else they could get away with. On Songs In A & E it was the little ‘Harmony’ interludes. Well, that and the near fatal double pneumonia attack that had Piece flat on his back for an extendedstay in intensive care. For Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space too, it was life’s backdrop that acted as the gimmick. Specifically, the small matter of the Paul and Linda of indie-space-drone-soul being estranged forever when Linda ran off with the Mick Jagger of indie-space-drone-rock (albeit with the facial emphasis being on his nose rather than his lips), who happened to be in themetamorphisistical throes of becoming Oasis’ pseudo-poetic sixth form college cousin, doing a nice line in flat-packed terrace anthems, whilst showing impressive disregard for fellow pedestrians. One can say, pretty much irrefutably, that this is what fed that brilliant, brilliant career-defining high point of a record. Indeed, heartbreak of one sort or another is key to all their best work on any of their seven albums.
For Sweet Heart Sweet Light Pierce has gone with a compliment of almost-plasticized, female soul backing vocals as the gimmick. Like a subtlely effected version of the Sweet Inspirations. Or a child-like T Rex vocal support. There they are on lead single: ‘Hey Jane’, which is exactly the kind of arrogant, urgent anthem you want from a Spiritualized single. Halfway through it breaks down into a narcotic mess under the weight of nothing in particular, only to creep back in a minute or so later with the drums going double time and everything else kind of strutting celebratorarily. These last two sections totally justify its eight minutes 52 seconds. ('Did he just say eight fucking minutes, fifty fucking two fucking seconds?! For a fucking single?!' 'Yeah he did but he also said it was totally justified, so let’s just believe him, yeah?')
‘Little Girl’ is the slow stately exercise-in-epic that you might also want from a Spiritualized single. It wouldn't sound at all out of place on Let It Come Down and the vocal gimmick returns in greater force.
Then there are the mammoth, swooping, indian strings of ‘Get What You Deserve’ and, later on, ‘I Am What I Am’ shows itself to be a disparate, discordant take on Marvin Gaye’s ‘Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler)’. It’s a like a slightly contracted ‘Cop Shoot Cop’ but with more Albert Ayler squawking, random saxophone. And that Marvin Gaye bass line.
The tracks ‘Mary’ and ‘Freedom’ are among the worst in the entire Spiritualized canon but then there’s the White Light/White Heat grinding noixe-scape majesty of ‘Headin’ For The Top Now’ so…
It is, all in all, a pretty solid front half of a Spiritualized album that sort of transmits intermittently in the middle and then totally falls on its arse for the last three tracks.
Crucially (and I can’t state enough how crucial this point is), this record is missing the really pathetic low point that makes you cry your eyes dry. The helpless hymn of inactivity. Of exhaustive and limbless peril. Of watching your girl run off to, say, New Orleans, with a better version of you because you’re a shit boyfriend and a shit human whose chief talents are taking drugs and making music. Luckily, a large enough percentage of the human populace take joy from the latter to qualify it as some kind of redemption, but still… (This is probably where all the references to Jesus and heaven and death and fire and rain and “holding on” stem from.) Obviously, these are set to brilliant little tunes robbed from some unknowing, dead genius from Kentucky circa 1926, and then electrified and built up into testimonial palaces of regret and self-loathing. In a good way.
But they are not here. They are absent. They’re off sick (ie. probably copping smack). With pretty much every Spiritualized album these are the tracks that have been first to really draw me in. Cos, y’know, I am, like, a guy, with… err… some feelings and that, and, err… yeah, I can… um… I can relate… err… man. I love those tracks. They kill me. And I’m a massive sucker for almost any ballad. And not a lot of people do ‘em better than Jason Spaceman. Anyway, I’ve been calling these 'gateway tracks'.
There’s a phrase my friend Tom uses: “Fuck the bridge, let’s get to the chorus”. It’s a basic rule for making pop music and generally it works. However, much of the time, these songs eschew the drawn out, yearning, excrutiation of the build up that is so key to Spiritualized’s really, really emotional lows (that are, perversely, also the musical highs), in order to fuck the bridge. To get to the pop-pay-off double quick. The suspense and drama and anguish never have enough time to dwell and fester and rot your endorphins away until you are in a pitiful, tear soaked ball on the floor of the tube or office or kitchen. Herein lies the problem. The heartbreak; the misery has to be communicated in morethan just the sentiment of the lyrics. But not here. The atmosphere of utter, abject sorrow is never properly established enough to get your guts and I don’t get my gateway track. Perhaps this gateway track will become evident to me in the next few weeks of listening but I don't really see it happening and here's why...
You may have picked up on the fact that I'm in a bit of an enduring Spiritualized purple patch and happen to have listened to all of their albums almost ceaselessly for the past year. If this 'gateway track' were there, the chances are that I would have picked up on it pretty fucking quick.
I have been guilty of digesting Spiritualized slowly in the past (particularly the more recent offerings), picking up on no tracks at all at first before, one by one, they slowly make nests inside me. You would think this would be the undoing of the above argument BUT I loved three of the tracks here almost immediately, which is odd given my previous experiences with the back catalogue. It’s always been none, then one, then maybe three, then…
But maybe I’ll prove myself wrong. Maybe the record will prove me wrong. Maybe I’m wrong about flutes. Maybe I’ll just fuck it all off and become a flute-toting Morris Dancer in corduroy flares who can’t fight. Jesus! Hang on. Maybe Ol’ Jase was right about the heroin… I’m totally not going to do that. Maybe I’ll just give it another spin…
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