Songs in A&E – Spiritualized
Fontana Universal/Spaceman Records 5422
Striking in its restraint, surprising in its resolve, shattering in its plain-spoken residue, this is an album of controlled confusion, yearning for something that is fragile and precise. And damned if I care what that particular thing’ is as James Pierce (aka former Spacemen 3 songwriter/guitarist/vocalist/druggie, J. Spaceman, Spaceman, and/or Spiritualized leader) seems to have stretched beyond that original high premise of “taking drugs to make music to take drugs to” (as he once named an album). We’re on the other side, now, and Pierce delivers a dozen and a half songs that are simple, straightforward, anguished, painful, and some of the best work of his long and extremely heady career.
Space is the place, but in the context of this latest work, Pierce seems more interested in exploring gentle passages filled with personal lyrical comeuppance at his own expenseequal parts late period Radiohead, pre-meltdown Syd Barrett, and a whole lotta original strands filtered through his gloriously fucked-up mind. It is a post-double pneumonia survival which haunts these cuts and adds a gravity that enhances its timely masterpiece’ vibe. After full-lengths like Lazer Guided Melodies and the killer psychedelic live album to end them all, 1997’s Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space — a work dripping in everything that is right and true about drug-taking and recommended for those who can make it out the other side intact with whatever the hell they valued before the trip — Pierce seems to finally be taking into account the price one pays for such… uh spiritual explorations.
Or does that matter? These songs emphasize the fact that Pierce and his long-ass list of musicians are more intent in shadowing his near-death-experience lyrics with some of the most beautiful music this side of Brian Wilson when he knew what he wanted. Pierce, luckily enough for him and us, got his head together, and the results are some of the most lasting impressions of his career. And to be absolutely sure, the songs benefit from their brevity as the prior works’ over-the-top psycho showboating is replaced by tightly-honed gems that sparkle as one tumbles over the melodies.
This is gorgeous music. In no particular order: “The Waves Crash In,” percussion, keys, and strings wrap around an aching Pierce vocal to grand shimmering effect; “Yeah Yeah,” with its Dylan-circa 65 guitar, rant, and tude; “Death Take Your Fiddle” with a soft guitar riff, airbag, coma-laden vocals, and a haunting Spaghetti Western vibe as filtered through a jaded Thom Yorke slant-eyed milieu; the seven-minute “Baby I’m Just a Fool,” which shuffles along before developing into a sweet waltz of comfort wedded to venom-laced lyrics; the “Harmony” interludes featuring accordion, glockenspiel, and the Old Man, and the lush, vibrant landscape that drifts into the sunset on the enchanting “Don’t Hold Me Close,” a duet with singer Rachel Korine. These are tracks to be treasured in and out of their context, and Pierce finds a way to transcend his real and imagined pain to construct songs that appear to heal, not only himself, but those who take that leap of faith with him on this long-awaited release from the space rock pioneer.