May 1, 2003

Spiritualized: Good Dope, Good Fun

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Psychedelic music is branded “drug music” neither because the people making it are under the influence (though they often are), nor because the listeners are similarly enhanced (though they often are). More precisely it is called “drug music” because listening to psychedelic music requires patience and continuous connection to the sonic textures built, and certain drugs are the perfect lubricant for making one receptive in this way. Jason Pierce, the mastermind behind Spiritualized, has never hidden that drugs occupy a place in his life but the sadness, complexity, and beauty of his music prove that drugs are never the main focus. What distinguishes Spiritualized from psychedelic music is the emotional intensity and depth that Pierce chooses to reveal. The emotional element is developed through gospel and blues influences that are probably the most intriguing and important ingredients in Pierce’s magical concoction. Among layers of looping psychedelic guitars and keyboards the awed listener discovers angelic choirs and the life of a broken man. The result is graceful and very powerful. Listeners cry during Spiritualized shows. Really.

Pierce’s music started grand and only became grander. During his time with Spacemen 3, Pierce, working with only two other band members, created memorable walls of distorted sound that would influence classic bands such as The Verve and My Bloody Valentine. By 2001, two of the eleven tracks on Spiritualized’s last album Let It Come Down had less than one hundred people on it. The Complete Works Volume 1 brings together EPs, B-sides and rarities from the band’s early period (’89 — ’95). Some of the songs on the two-disc set have appeared in different forms on the band’s Lazer Guided Melodies and Pure Phase albums. Typically, collections of rarities are uneven at best and useless at worst, but Pierce is a perfectionist and this collection is the exception to the rule. It is meticulously crafted without a single gap in the auditory pleasure.

Complete Works documents Pierce’s evolution towards the masterpiece opus Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space. Moving away from the trance rhythms that frequented the first two Spiritualized LPs, many of the songs feature a more human approach to percussion, emphasizing the gospel edge and allowing for experimentation with a wider range of instruments. “Feel So Sad” is bound by a mesmerizing free jazz flute weaving itself around the song. In a few other places, classical guitar lines complement the electric guitar tones. Those that missed The Velvet Underground influence prevalent in Spacemen 3, yet largely absent during Spiritualized’s early years, will be pleased to hear the transcendent chorus of “Why Don’t You Smile Now” climax into swarms of distortion. Pierce’s obsession with crescendos permeate these songs as they grow bigger and bigger while the voice of a tortured angel narrates the eventual fall.

Ultimately what makes The Complete Works Volume 1 great is Pierce’s astounding compositional abilities. For the uninitiated this isn’t the best place to start a new musical addiction, yet even a novice, left alone in a dark room with headphones, this record, and a perfect prescription, will surely float in space, drift in time and come back to earth two hours later touched by a messiah that is part heroin, part beauty, part JC himself.

Archived article by Maxim Pozdorovkin