Spiritualized – Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space

I look back on (or listen back to?) 1997 rather fondly.  In no particular order, the following artists released memorable albums in 1997: Elliott Smith, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Blur, Mogwai, Radiohead, Tindersticks, Super Furry Animals, Robert Wyatt, Cornershop, Teenage Fanclub, Primal Scream, The Verve and Spiritualized.  Top of my list though is Spiritualized‘s Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space.  Now, 12 years on, the album has been remastered and expanded.  This is the first occasion I can think of where an album has been given a makeover when I already thought it sounded as good as an album ever could.  So, unlike this year’s Big Star, The Stone  Roses, Neil Young and The Beatles remasters, the appeal here wasn’t for a better sound, but the inclusion of the rare original version of the title track, and a host of studio outtakes (on the two new expanded versions of the album)….and of course, an excuse to write about the album!

Ladies and Gentlemen pill pack re-issue

Ladies and Gentlemen... pill pack re-issue

From start to finish it is an album full of create flare, majestically written, arranged, performed and produced.  It was masterminded by Jason Pierce at the peak of his creativity, albeit at a time of personal trauma (the two do often go hand in hand).  The album shares similar lyrical themes to another of the best from 1997, Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds‘ The Boatman’s Call.  The common themes are a questioning of spirituality and the breakdown of a relationship.  A third key lyrical reference point for Jason Pierce is of course drugs.  And it is understandable why Jason is reluctant to discuss this in interviews.  With lyrics like “I sometimes have my breakfast right off of a mirror, and sometimes I have it right out of a bottle” (from Home Of The Brave) there really should be no need to ask questions like, “So, Jason have you ever, you know, dabbled in drugs at all while writing songs?“. We sometimes get all three themes in one song.  Album closer Cop Shoot Cop is a case in point.  Starting by paraphrasing John Prine‘s Sam Stone, Jason sings:

“Hey man, there’s a whole in my arm where all the money goes,
Jesus Christ died for nothing I suppose”

After a cathartic, protracted false cadence on one chord (or maybe even fewer than one, depending on your definition!)  Jason declares in the song’s funereal outro “A desert is any place without you”, and thus he’s ticked all his own boxes in one song. The pause in that line after “A desert is…”, and the resigned nature of Jason’s voice sends a shiver down the spine.  The aural blitz in the middle of Cop Shoot Cop is by no means easy listening, but the way it resolves sounds magical when listened to with closed eyes and an open mind.  When I first catch the sound of a lone trumpet stepping out of the mêlée to signal an end to the chaos, backed up by the first distant rumble of Sean Cook’s returning bass line and the meditative choir, I’m right there with him, going through my own aural catharsis.

Ladies and Gentlemen... reissue

Ladies and Gentlemen... reissue

I’m going to resist the temptation to write about every aspect of the Ladies and Gentlemen… album that moves me because I’d be writing for a month if I did.  One other song I cannot leave unmentioned though is Broken Heart.  This is one of very few songs that have made me cry – although admittedly on the occasion in question the pathos of this song was merely a trigger for me to open up about something totally unrelated.  This is one of the songs on the album that has evolved live since the being recorded for the album.  The bluesy harmonica solo played by Doggen, and the prominence of the gospel choir make this an even more heart-wrenching proposition live than on record.  And if I’d only ever heard the album version, I wouldn’t have thought that possible.

I’ve now seen Spiritualized live eight times.  I broke a pattern last week with the eighth, as previously I’d seen them seven times in seven cities: Manchester, Sydney, York, Salford, Minehead (ATP Festival), Sheffield and Leeds.  It was fitting though that I broke the pattern by going back to the start, seeing them in Manchester for the second time.  The first time I saw them there was when they first toured the Ladies and Gentlemen…album, and last week’s gig was a special run through that album in its entirety.  It really was quite astounding.  There were 20-30 musicians on stage and they captured pretty much every single aspect of the recorded album, with breathtaking clarity.  One of the most impressive things was the way the percussionist managed to simultaneously play the tricky tambourine part to the aforementioned Cop Shoot Cop and also play the chime at exact right moment too.

I’ve become familiar with the (until now unreleased) original lyric to the title track, as Spiritualized have been performing it live with the I Can’t Help Falling In Love interpolation for a few years now.   But I think Jason may have come to the same conclusion as me – that the overlaying of I Can’t Help Falling In Love on top of Ladies and Gentlemen… doesn’t really work.  The only place the Elvis tune was used at the gig last week was in the middle of the song, almost as a middle eight.  I think it works better that way than it does on the new version of the album.  I just don’t think the harmony of the two songs complements each other.  This is of course all to the credit of Jason, because after having his interpolation of the Elvis tune poo-pooed by The King’s estate, he actually came up with something that works even better.  In my view there is nothing wrong with the 1997 released version of this song, whatsoever.

The one blot at the gig was the band having to restart Stay With Me.  The bassist lost his way and, due to the tricky timing of his part, was unable to pick it up again, so Jason stopped the song.  It’s interesting that the only mistake I noticed was made by the bassist.  I had wondered whether the bass would be as good live last week as on the record.   Sean Cook (who was a member at the time of recording the original album) is the former member of Spiritualized I miss the most.  His playing, on that album in particular, is key to what made Spiritualized sound so amazing in the mid- to late-nineties.  But, to his credit, the bassist only made the one error that I noticed.  And other than that, it was a pure joy to hear such a landmark album played live in its entirety.

So, there we are, I’ve had not one, but two excuses to write about this album within a few weeks! Oh, happy day!