My original CD copy of this came in a glow-in-the-dark luminous jewel case. I remember not really getting into it that much, I guess because my head/ears weren’t quite ready for where Jason Pierce was taking the band at that stage—into more esoteric avante-jazz territory (courtesy of the Balanescu Quartet) and sludgy distorted garage rock psychedelia. I’ve always thought ‘psychedelic’ was a strange word to describe that raw garage rock sound. To me the word conjures up something like Sgt. Peppers type music; colourful, melodic, trippy, day-glo. Anyway, this was a distinct move away from the easier listening ambience of Lazer Guided Melodies with a more eclectic range of songs, more freeform noise, and rawer guitars.
I remember I played it a lot but never really clicked with it back then, and sold my CD during one of my late nineties CD purges. Since getting the vinyl reissue in 2010, I’ve been castigating myself – the album is far more melodic and enjoyable than the memory I’d been holding all these years. Pure Phase is more eclectic than Lazer Guided Melodies, which makes it more interesting because of its wider ranging songs and instrumentation. In addition to the usual cache of guitars and synths we get dulcimers, violins, violas, cellos, trombones, tam tams, trumpets, bammies, saxes, flutes and backing singers. In fact, Pure Phase segues the Lazer Guided Melodies ethos/aesthetic quite naturally through to the Ladies And Gentlemen album. One of the best things here is the ‘wha-monica’ which I can only describe as a harmonica-on-electric-acid.
For the duration of this album only, Spiritualized were officially known as “Spiritualized Electric Mainline” before contracting themselves to a single word moniker thereafter.
Medication… is a huge opener, clocking in at nearly eight minutes. Starts with some wonky circus music before moving into the smooth sounds of an aural medicine, those shimmering shrill organ lines. The song trades in radical contrasts, one minute a warm ear-balm, the next a violent burst of grunge and other guitar effects – wha-monica – which lasts several bars before returning to the softness. The effect this has is one of schizoid jarring, lulling you in and startling you out of your brief highs—and why? Clearly it’s a form meeting content thing. Turn to the lyrics and we find someone addicted to “medication,” but whether that means illegal substances or a methadone program I don’t know. When Pierce sings “Makes me feel so good / Makes me feel so fine / Makes me feel so good” you totally understand because your ears are at one with him and the sumptuous energetic melody, until the line “leaves me fucked up inside” hits you with its bathos. The song could have ended here after four minutes or so, but we’re not getting off that lightly. Instead we follow through into glorious noise and ethereal heights, floating in space. The whole song is high on its own magnificence. The real withdrawal starts when the album ends, and I guess this idea was pushed to its logical extreme with the medicinal “take once a day” idea behind Ladies & Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space. Awesome opening track.
The Slide Song… the effect of hearing this lush wobbly trippy piece is to make you feel like you’re back in Lazer Guided Melodies territory. “The Slide Song” is all about not wanting to hurt the one you love, but at the same time, there’s a side of you that has to remain true to yourself (dedicated to exploring consciousness-expansion) and that’s where the point of difficulty arises. The song is sumptuous, slow, mesmerizing, melodic. The vocals are overlaid in a ghostly way, smooth, and lovely. “I don’t know just why I need to do the things I do / And I’d love to do these things without them hurting you / I don’t know that you will understand but that’s the truth.”
Electric Phase… and if you were enjoying “The Slide Song” too much then you were having too much of a good time, because this ‘song’ is nothing more than a roar of noise, like a hundred arc-welders working simultaneously inside an aircraft hangar, testing equipment. A transitional piece. Fortunately it only goes for about a minute.
All Of My Tears… fades into view on a pulsing, helical chord. That shrill organ is still there but almost vanishing into the ether, and we get violins or cellos along with those pure phase tones. Pierce invokes the ‘Lord’ for the first time on the album. He’s hot, his heart is bleeding and he just wants water, an endless ocean, to wash away all of his tears. Nice slow melody.
These Blues… is loud and shimmering, with that wild harmonica, there to evoke the blues, but these are no backporch, beat-up guitar blues. This is more of an internal head injury, disturbed thoughts, mental anguish. Again Pierce sings to someone called “Lord” explaining that he’s not a complete goner yet, that there’s still a spark deep in his soul ripe for redemption. We never quite learn what “these blues” are that he’s gonna kick, other than it’s a screaming, distant turbulence of feedbacking guitar and demonic wha-monica. And that’s the end of Side One, alternating as it does between smooth lush mesmerizing LGM-type numbers and cold noisy chemical blues.
Let It Flow… throughout the song we’ve got a backing choir singing “woh-oh-woah” in a pure, smooth, processed kind of perfection, in between which Pierce sings about “it.” In this song “it” is a feeling, a high, which takes him home and if he lets it go, then he can “let it flow,” while we get that lovely choir reminding us of how damn good this feeling is: “Woh-oh-woah.” Some scratchy dirgy interlude before the bass drum starts booming beautifully beneath the whole love, the love that unfortunately also makes our poor boy “sick.” But at least for the duration of this song, he brings us, the audience, into his gorgeous flight of fancy. Dreamy tuneful stuff.
Take Good Care Of It… pure phase tones again, piercing shrillness, a loose feel, the sound field filled up with various drones, sustained effects moving at different speeds, in parallax, through the mix, while Pierce’s washed out voice remains buried in the midst of the angelic spheres. The version on Fucked Up Inside was quite different – far more melodic. This version is more of a sound-sculpture. Vibrations, textures, brass, piping electronic effects, a ruminative bass line, like if I had to pigeon hole it, I might come up with something lame like “ambient avante-garde jazz.” Another mood piece, this time about how love is a give and take affair.
Born Never Asked… is a cover from Laurie Anderson’s Big Science album, and while I’m mentioning her, I’ll throw a link down here to my review of Anderson’s amazing album Bright Red – my third favourite album of all time and something I’d expect serious Spiritualized heads to enjoy too. Her version of “Born Never Asked” has lyrics, eschewed here for the instrumental effect. I guess the title says it all really. It’s a loud, chordal affair, big slow swooping pulsing chords, as it merges straight into the next track…
Electric Mainline… with some kind of fantastic woodwind effect that I love to bits, and it faintly reminds me of a track by Howie B called “Gallway” from his album Snatch, a headphone classic. The bass and drums are quite prominent in propelling the song along. There’s a lot going on here. Maybe we’re tripping on electricity, a theme that comes up several times in future Spiritualized releases – musical odes to the wonders of electrons and protons, a metaphor for the surge of chemicals in your bloodstream, a charge that blisses you out, take you to some higher realm and then wafts you along like a bird asleep inside a cloud. Again, this deals in Lazer Guided Melodies aesthetics to some extent, proving the idea that Pure Phase is very much the transition from LGM to Ladies & Gentlemen. It’s wondrous stuff this, like what would Beethoven have made of this music? Sometimes you wanna stick your shepherd’s crook into the drain of time, hook it around the neck of some medieval composer and wrench him into the twenty-first century. “Listen to this bro,” and he’d be like, “wtf?” This goes on for ages, quite repetitive but it’s such a strange weird beautiful noise that you don’t want it to end. I can faintly hear a voice in there too, low and muffled.
Lay Back In The Sun… sounds suspiciously like a repeat of LGM’s “I Want You.” This is a more upbeat vocal number, driving distorted guitar, a sustained cymbal-echo dreaming in the background. Lyrically the song is about having a good time in the sun, but of course this involves some “good dope.” This also harks back to that Beach Boys-esque surf-feel of LGM. About halfway through the song, everything drops out of the mix and we get Spiritualized-in-dub, very nice. Doesn’t last long enough. Everything’s not as great as it seems, though, because in this song the singer has “a fever” inside of his soul, a fire inside. There’s so much fun, good times, good dope, and sunny beach vibes in this song that it starts to turn ironic, dark, sinister, as it echoes out into the cold phase tones of…
Pure Phase… this track, which is like a bleaker version of “Symphony Space” from LGM. Phase tones, tremeloes, sweeping hither thither like autumnal winds, snowdrifts, or more aptly, outer space radio waves, alien frequencies. Pulses, ringing, what’s left after all the good times have gone, a wasteland, an empty hollow head. These stratospheric-straddling drones waver around for a good several minutes and the concept of ‘spandrels’ comes into play. Between the shifting tones, phases are created, those intra-dimensional spaces between the main tones, the small spaces, where other things happen. “Pure Phase” merges into vibrating violin phrases, again sounding very much like Laurie Anderson on Big Science before some heavy cello phrase merges this into the next song…
Spread Your Wings… is slow and mournful sounding, yet hope is apparent in the lyrics—a “you can do anything you set your heart to” positive thinking song, if you’d only “spread your wings.” So we’re back to the flight theme of Lazer Guided Melodies again, which is really a metaphor for getting high and staying that way. I guess this is where the Balanescu Quartet joins in because now we’ve got cellos and violins and violas creating a stunningly sorrowful melody over top of the noise. In this song, the narrator appeals to “babe” – “You know I’ll take / Just a little bit more.” Here “time goes slowly by.” It all starts to sound rather grande towards the end, with that string section, portentous and magical and maybe a teeny bit bloated. In my mind Pierce is suggesting the possibilities for where he plans to take Spiritualized – a bigger, more grandiose ambition. The song ends and some weird, eerie, tunnel-like Doppler effects phase us into the next song…
Feel Like Goin’ Home… uses more strings, with a lovely analog synth melody, farfisa, lots of background motion, and more of those tunnel tones. “Going home” has to be a metaphor for climbing back inside the womb and returning to some blissful state of pre-birth. The prettiness all ends and we get some heavy chords climbing up and down, while Pierce intones, “Feel like I’m going home.” It’s slightly sludgy, but overlaid with various melodic phrases before slowly draining itself out.
Good Times… and let’s finish Side Four with some more of those rock’n’roll good times. Makes me think of The Cars, dammit. Here at least we’ve got loud guitars and that wicked wha-monica . “Hey baby / You know I love you / Gonna make you know what it’s all about.” These lyrics aren’t really much better than Cars lyrics it has to be said. But the music sounds more like wild noisy white blues again. It opens with pure phase tones, but soon expands into a rock beat, and brings the noise with lots of tremulous keyboards. Instruments with names like ‘fender precision’ and ‘fender thinline’ inform the noisy guitar nature of this, but the tune is a slight thing and it all seems a little familiar. The pace quickens into something racy and frenetic. Couldn’t really catch much of the lyrics. The song trails out into another six and a half minutes of …
Pure Phase… tones, again.
So we get ‘pure phases’ throughout the album like a recurring motif. I’ve grown to love this album a lot, it’s every bit as good as its predecessor and its follow up. Perhaps they’ve traded off some melody for atmosphere. I guess LGM has the edge because it was still novel. Seems that the whole ethos behind Spiritualized albums is that they’re structured like trips, as in trips with all the go-up and comedown chaos that entails. The real comedowns would eventuate on albums like …er… Let It Come Down. But for now, the next phase would still be riding a high: Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space.