Bands often have the very annoying tendency to change musical direction after hitting the right spot, only to produce a less impressive follow-up. Oasis did it after ‘Definitely Maybe’, Radiohead caught it post-‘OK Computer’ and the Stereophonics tragically fell for it after releasing a promising debut. Back in 1997, it seemed Spiritualized had recorded not only the best record of the year, but also without doubt the album of their lives in ‘Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space’. To follow it up seemed a tragic and impossible task. One which has taken 4 years of hard work to produce.
This record has been widely speculated as being the ‘rehab album’. One which sees frontman and bandleader Jason Pierce finally kick his chemicals into touch. Something Pierce himself has strongly denied. The album and song titles suggest it is the rehab album: ‘Let It Come Down’, ‘The Twelve Steps’, ‘The Straight And Narrow’, ‘Won’t Get To Heaven (The State I’m In)’. Yet the mood and the lyrics tell a different story. One similar to that of its predecessor, Pierce has stuck to what he does best and faced the task of following up a classic smack on.
‘Let It Come Down’ begins with the almost feel-good, chill-out rock stomper ‘On Fire’. “Let heaven flow into your soul” Pierce and his hundred-strong orchestra pleads us. Already it’s apparent that Spiritualized have decided to follow-up one of the best records of the 90’s with an album that treads similar ground. Almost immediately, we are transformed into the downbeat, string-fuelled mood that dominated ‘Ladies and Gentlemen…’ when the opening bars of ‘Out Of Sight’ come across us. “Out of sight is always out of mind”. Hugely orchestrated, and boosted by the blistering surge of brass takes this track onto a different level altogether just when you think it’s impossible for it to go any higher. The opening two-minutes of ‘Don’t Just Do Something’ recalls ‘Home Of The Brave’, but is transformed into one of the standout tracks on the record in a genius moment of transformation from the drone to a peaceful string-laden classic. Then to finish off Pierce returns with the lasting premonition “I’m going to drown before my ship comes in” and its at this point where you can see that the 4 years its took to record and mix this record was 4 years very well spent.
If ‘Don’t Just Do Something’ brought back memories of ‘Home Of The Brave’ then there is no doubting that the following track, the colossal ‘The Twelve Steps’ bears a good resemblance to the rock ‘n’ roll spirit of ‘Electricity’. The title suggests a time where Pierce was in rehab, yet the lyrics suggest that it is infact a rather sly dig at the clinics “I aint to to where I’m going to by hanging round with people like you” and in particular “Twenty eight days for 13 grand, I’d better go and get myself an insurance plan”.
After the fast and furious revolution which protested against such rehab clinics, ‘The Straight And Narrow’ almost suggests that in the end, they are some what essential. “The trouble with the straight and narrow is its so thin I keep sliding off to the side,” Pierce cries in one of the more melodic tunes on ‘Let It Come Down’. Beautiful. We then pass through the catchy, parodic ‘Do It All Over Again’ and the self-pitying ‘I Didn’t Mean To Hurt You’ to reach familiar ground, in the single ‘Stop Your Crying’. Heavily strung and irresistibly blissful ‘Stop Your Crying’ is perhaps the closest you’ll get to the perfect love song of the 21st Century. “Nothing hurts you like the pain of someone you love, there aint nothing you can gain that prepares you in love.” Lyrically beautiful and backed with the huge orchestral power, it’s the sound of losing a loved one. By far the most emotional song on the album and perhaps of the bands career, it’s a song Pierce needed to write. And he couldn’t have done it any better. When the chorus returns for one final rendition it reaches a point where the strings swirl and the gospel bellows out in a moment which would make even the coldest of person to melt and float away into an altogether different world.
In much the same way that ‘Cop Shoot Cop…’ formed the centre-piece of ‘Ladies and Gentlemen…’ the penultimate track, the awe-inspiring chiller ‘Won’t Get To Heaven (The State I’m In)’ sees Pierce return with another gospel influenced epic. Lyrically and vocally this track is much along the same lines as the rest on the album, however in the blissed out chorus of “I believe my time in Lord” and the phenomenal arrangements visits territory where no man has been before. Then, the final track revisits a familiar place in a hugely improved reprise of the Spaceman 3 (Pierce’s previous band) classic ‘Lord Can You Hear Me?’. The perfect end to as good-a follow-up you could ever get to such a classic as ‘Ladies And Gentlemen…’. Massive choral surges recall old days. But this is now, and Spiritualized are back on top with a mesmerizing set of quite fantastic tunes.
Here, Spiritualized have delivered an undisputed lesson in how to follow-up a classic. They’ve done it with a close to perfect record. Stick it on your sound system, headphones on, volume up, eyes shut and float away into another land.
9Michael Clarke's Score