Spiritualized, Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space, 1997

Ladies And Gentlemen was a highlight of my late 90s, but in 1997, the year it came out, I’d shifted allegiance away from Spiritualized, in part I think because I hadn’t really enjoyed Pure Phase all that much (back then). This meant it would be a few months before I gave in and bought a CD copy. I would have played it a couple of times in the record shop I was working in at that time and I’m pretty sure it was the first song that slowly drew me in. Who couldn’t get hooked on that brilliant opening track?

Posterity via critics’ polls has voted Ladies And Gentleman the high point of Spiritualized’s career (so far), their magnum opus, and I think I’m inclined to agree with that. Though Lazer Guided Melodies and Pure Phase are each phenomenally awesome in their own way, there’s something about the soaring ambition and high-conceptness of Ladies And Gentlemen that you have to admire. The album is beautifully balanced in terms of ebb and flow—it moves through LGM-like hypnotic rhythm-sculpted precision and Fucked Up Inside-like rock’n’roll, with the freeform jazz noise of parts of Pure Phase and sweeping orchestral instrumentals, all of it utilizing gospel choirs, saxophones, horns, accordion, harmonica, trumpet, trombone, flugelhorn, French horns, pedal steel, violins, melodica, flute and cello with Dr. John playing piano on one track and lots of lyrics about broken hearts, drugs, love, drugs, getting high, getting low, a dashing of Jesus, a pinch of Lord, taking drugs, metaphors for drugs, and spacing out. Yeah, right on. Not much different to its predecessors really. I’ve always wondered – if the narrator of these songs was as regularly off the planet as his lyrics suggest, how did he ever get his head straight enough to pull something like this together? Most of us couldn’t orchestrate our way out of a paper bag at the best of times.

The album pretends to act as prescription medicine replete with a “Patient Product Information” sheet. “Spiritualized is used to treat the heart and soul” explains the section on usage. This conceit runs on into sections such as active ingredients, recommended dosage, possible side effects and storage advice. Reading this soon gets tedious when you realize that it’s not half as clever as it seems—all they’ve done is substitute the word ‘Spiritualized’ for ‘medicine’ or ‘tablets.’ There are two ‘tablets’ in the ‘packet’ which are your two slabs of vinyl. Still, it can be amusing on occasion: “Large doses can lead to loss of consciousness, convulsions or coma.” I’ve been playing this album regularly for 14 years and I’ve yet to experience a Spiritualized-induced coma. Pop the pill already Bumstead…

Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space… Kate Radley announces the title in a flat voice, echoing the undeniable flat truth of that statement. Try putting on a wry smile and announcing this in the middle of your next dinner party. The song fades in on a mantra: “All I want in life’s a little bit of love to take the pain away / Getting strong today / A giant step each day.” Ironic, given that the piece is based on Pachelbel’s “Canon”, a three hundred year old melody revived in the twentieth century and often played at weddings. The phrase ‘giant step’ also suggests a link to spiritual jazz great, John Coltrane. Pierce then comes singing over top of himself in a telephone voice, referencing Elvis: “I’ve been told only fools rush in / Only fools rush in / But I don’t believe / I don’t believe / I could still fall in love with you.” The song kicks in with a fuller orchestral sound, soft keyboard part, violins, strange digital beeping sounds, and this gorgeous symphonic multi-vocal harmony, Pierce singing three parts over top of himself with other lines like “I’ll love you to death, I guess that’s what you get / And I don’t know where we are all going to.” It’s sort of hypnotic – not many people do this – sing in rounds, especially with themselves, doing different melodic parts. Pierce double- or triple-tracks his voice too just for added effect. The only other pop songs I can think of with three simultaneous vocal melodies performed by the same singer is Thom Yorke on the climax of “Let Down” and the last glorious minute of Paul McCartney’s “Silly Love Songs” Anyway, this is up there as one of my fave opening tracks of all time. And speaking of the Beatles…

Come Together… is all high tension power-lines, a rush of noise, horn parts, wildly vacillating violin lines, and thrashing fenders in the chorus parts with this pressing insistent rhythm always pushing forward, while Pierce sings about “little Johnny” in this defiant voice like he’s getting revenge on himself, an accusatory kind of voice, pouty, scornful and disgusted. Meanwhile, the gospel choir echo the title in the background, with handclaps, while each member in the orchestral pit starts doing their own random thing and the guitars fill up all the space with grungy noise. “So little J’s a fucked up boy / Who dulled the pain but killed the joy / And little J’s a fucking mess / But when he’s offered he just says ‘yes’.” Presumably, Jason Pierce, aka J Spaceman, is singing about himself but from an older and wiser perspective. It’s immense surging powerful stuff: “Come together / Come together / Come together.” Very cool ending as it churchy-organs itself into the next song…

I Think I’m In Love… with one of those six note repeating bass lines we heard so much on LGM and wah-wah-like squelches, a piano pip-pop part and various other noises. I love these kind of Spiritualized songs where there’s a variety of simple sounds, or short one, two or three note melodies that are juxtaposed around each other to create a really cool rhythmic sound bed for the tripped out vocal, which goes: “Sun so bright that I’m nearly blind / Cool cause I’m wired and I’m out of my mind / Warms the dope running down my spine / But I don’t care about you and I’ve got nothing to do.” Not really a love song then. “Love in the middle of the afternoon / Just me, my spike in my arm and my spoon.” Quite melodic. But that charming and fragile sound field soon drops off momentarily before taking flight again with a faster drumbeat and a lot more noise in the background. Accordion and harmonica and shimmering strings, contrapuntal horns interjecting disharmonic blasts between the ravishing drop-walk-hop-stop rhythm section, while Pierce starts singing lines of hope and answering them with deep cynicism. It’s all quite poppy really, beginning with “I think I’m in love / Probably just hungry,” then slowly gets more despairing: “I think I wanna tell the world / Probably ain’t listening” and this neat rhyme: “I think I have caught it bad / Probably contagious / I think that I’m a winner babe / Probably Las Vegas.” Again the gospel choir add their piece: “I think I’m in love,” and it works as a kind of meta-language for how I feel about this song. Quite a lengthy number, and yet, so good you almost wish it would go for another ten minutes. Side One ends, a superb opening three-song salvo.

All Of My Thoughts… a jaunty piano part, a violin, that organ part, accordion, all fading in softly. “Don’t know what to do with myself / Cos all of my time was with you / I just don’t know what to do on my own / Cos all of my thoughts are of you.” And then the avante-roar starts up, an angry storm, that churning sound of confusion we’ve heard elsewhere. Structurally it’s very similar to a number of the tracks off Pure Phase. Soft floaty cloud-high verse parts interrupted by violent noise-jazz, pounding bass and drums, squealing trumpets, which soon give way to shafts of sunlight, stoned angels, a cloud orchestra, the song drifting far away, off to the horizon, red sky turning purple, indigo, black… as he resigns himself to her inevitable fading away…

Stay With Me… an intricately arranged opening with bass, springs, weird effects, and Pierce in soothing mode: “Oh babe / I love the way you smile / Stay with me / Slide all the time, don’t go / I love the way you smile / Stay with me.” Aesthetically, this harks very much back to Lazer Guided Melodies. “Hold me all of the time.” Pause, then surge back in more heavily, more dramatically, timpani and piercing whistles, Peter Pan dancing across the cymbals, vast chords zooming slowly beneath the mix like a tsunami. They up the ante one more time, as the sound field gets fuller, filled up with bass and fender, horn parts, strings, and again, the whole thing picks up volume, picks up musicians, gathering power, building to a crescendo that never … quite … comes…

Electricity… wasn’t there a song called “Electricity” on Pure Phase? Maybe not, but that album had its own paeans to the power of protons and electrons as I recall. “Electricity” in Spiritualized-land seems to be acting metaphor for chemical leisure but at the same time suggesting that playing electric guitar is a suitable substitute. So again, we’ve moved back to rock’n’roll, with wild harmonica and bullhorn vocals. “I said electricity / Let it rain all over me / Let the light be forever green / I’m playing with fire if you know what I mean / I need someone to help me / Turn it on.” This really rolls and rocks, sort of like a double helix, the rhythm section tumbling like rocks through a tube-tunnel on different trajectories. It gets positively squiggly, like the unpredictability of lightning strikes, the fizzing static of a light sabre, the danger-thrill-buzz of shoving your fingers in a socket and watching your hair all stand on end as your soul fries. Rockin’ out in the free world, man.

Home Of The Brave… beautiful rollicking piano part, distant noise building. More drug-taking: “I don’t even feel it / But Lord how I need it …/ … I sometimes have my breakfast / Right off of a mirror / And sometimes I have it / Right out of a bottle / Come on.” That ‘come on’ is like Pierce’s favourite phrase. Pity. It’s something of a rock’n’roll cliché if you ask me. I’m pretty sure Ric Ocasek was quite fond of saying “come on.” And Billy Idol too. As with the Laurie Anderson cover on Pure Phase, “Born Not Asked,” this also references Anderson who had a concert album called Home Of The Brave. The song doesn’t really change much, just drifting along while Pierce intones in a weary voice the details of his habit. “I don’t even miss you / But that’s cos I’m fucked up / And sure when it wears off / Then I will be hurting.” This time he seems to be finding ways to forget the pain: “I’m gonna rip it up / Tear it out / Gotta get you off of my soul.” The background noise eventually increases until it swamps the song in fuzz. Pierce has never had much of a singing range; in fact he has something of flat voice which is probably why he brings it to life through processors.

The Individual… is the first of two instrumentals, this one churning in like a swarm of bees at first, saxophones creating a dissonant buzzing noise, a thrumming bass, squeaking and squealing saxes, all sustained, kind of like a baby wailing, a whole crèche of babies wailing, wah! Or a jungle full of agonized parrots that some documentarist has sampled and played on a loop. It goes for a couple of minutes before the slow fade…

Broken Heart… opens with soft warm keyboard tones, a chord change that manages to slip under your heart, the shimmering organ line, and you know you’re about to come down a few moods. The orchestra starts up in the background, the organs merge with violins, and Pierces begins: “Though I have a broken heart / I’m too busy to be heartbroken / There’s a lot of things that need to be done / Lord I have a broken heart.” In this song, the narrator also has a broken dream and he can drink all his problems away. It’s the violins hovering just behind his voice that bring the fragility; the emotional power of this song is quite something. Genuinely sad sounding, yet so pretty you can’t help being wowed and uplifted by its subtle understated majesty. The violinists saw away the melancholy for a couple more minutes, drifting in waves, heavy doleful descending chords, all tender heart strings and the joy of being able to wallow in your misery. Quietly beautiful.

No God Only Religion… is the second instrumental, trickling in but soon morphing into some kind of elephant-performing rhythmic circus music, a circus band about to break out of their usual schtick, letting all the wild animals out of their cages. The rhythm section is quite jaunty, but the instrumentalists are about to let loose as this builds into orchestral thrash, pure post-Coltrane avante-noise neighbour-annoying sonic terrorism. The drums and bass pounding like heavy waves against rocks. Noisily beautiful.

Cool Waves… is all smooth processed vocals and keyboard-driven aesthetics with another whispered telephone vocal, and great use of the gospel choir here. “Baby if you lose your love / Don’t take me by surprise / Don’t think you’re crying / But there’s teardrops in your eyes / If you gotta leave, you gotta leave,” followed by that swelling choral part: “Cool waves wash over me / Cool water running free / Lay your sweet hand on me / Cause I love you / Love you.” As one who lives in a climate that makes me feel like I’m perpetually on fire, I can relate to that: Cold, people, is good. Pierce’s vocal is a delicate thing, and when the London Gospel Choir join, the whole thing sounds cathedralesque. It’s a big slow moving anthem, lovely tune, and that flute part warbling behind the choral part sounds fantastic, reminds me of Astral Weeks. The horn section and drums fill in the background like some faded out, wasted big band music.

Cop Shoot Cop… and let’s finish with this seventeen minute tour de force, with Dr. John tinkling the ivories, a lone guitar line like a mozzie buzzing past your ear, rock rhythm, various other sound effects zipping in and out of the mix, as the rhythm settles into a swampish groove…which er..fades out to a lone bell sound, briefly, and then the volume turns back up: “Hey man there’s a hole in my arm / Where the money goes / Jesus Christ died for nothin’ I suppose / Cop shoot cop / I believe I have been reborn / Cop shoot cop / I haven’t got the time no more.” A surge of squealing electric guitars, with that piano part keeps the emotion riding high. The mood of the piece is tentative, always vaguely threatening to break out and assault you with noise, which it duly does, violently so. “Hey man there’s a hole in my reason that I gotta fill / Cause all my love died for nothin’ I suppose.” I suppose it was the Velvet Underground’s “Heroin” that set the template for this kind of extended drug-addled marathon of maelstromic proportions. Eventually all the noise surges together into our good old Spiritualized-jet engine. They could have hung a couple of microphones out on the tarmac at Heathrow and gotten a similar effect; the noise builds into a wind tunnel of screeching and sirens, and demonic electric howling. Must have been fun to take part in. It’s seriously nasty, disturbed, violent; all nature’s forces gathering; perhaps it’s the sound of death. Imagine that – you think you’re about to drift off into eternal peace, but instead you’re subject to this kind of infernal racket instead, which is probably a lot more fun. The bass gets so low in the middle of all this, my whole apartment is rattling. Dr. John is back, the rhythm section sounds like it’s fighting to reassert the original voodoo, and it does, and the choir joins for some wordless humming. Pierce starts up again, his voice close mic’ed. “Cause you’re so sweet / I can’t seem to find my way back home / If this is heaven / Know that I’m not happy here / Cos heaven aint any place I’m going to.” Woah, what a way to take out the album.

Ladies And Gentleman seems to be a concept album about drowning the sorrow of lost love in artificial stimulants, uppers and downers. It doesn’t quite have the riding/flight journey-coherency of the earlier albums, though the individual songs themselves each stand out as something of an occasion. It’s a monster of an album that’s for sure, possibly even a little bloated, but hey, its only real competition that year was Ok Computer.  Many of the tracks on this album would get even more noised-up for Spiritualized’s second concert album released the following year, Royal Albert Hall October 1997.

This was Alan Bumstead’s 14th favourite album of the 90s

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About Alan Bumstead Vinyl Reviews

Alan Bumstead is a music fanatic who humbly adds confusion to the world with a string of album reviews written during real-time-listening in a stream-of-consciousness style, then edited for spelling, punctuation, flow and grammar. Apart from an additional introductory paragraph, the writing is improvised in time with the music. There is no re-writing. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- In his book Moving To Higher Ground Wynton Marsalis says, "Because jazz musicians improvise under the pressure of time, what's inside comes out pure. It's like being pressed to answer a question before you have a chance to get your lie straight. The first thought is usually the truth." I like to think that's what Alan Bumstead's all about.
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4 Responses to Spiritualized, Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space, 1997

  1. Roddy Ruru says:

    Dear Sir/Madam Alan,

    I am a ‘fan’ of your article and writings on this Vinyl Life site. You are a very good author trained in observing music and albums. And I am a ‘fan’ of the United Kingdom band Bauhaus. Bauhaus are known all around famously as a retired Gothic band, and have several or many LP’s and CD’s and singles. Mask, Sky Has Gone Out, In the Flat Field etcetera. I am wondering whether you will have articles/writings on Bauhaus at a time soon on Vinyl Life.

    Please,

    R.Ruru.

    • Dear Roddy,

      The Bauhaus, I believe, was a school of art and craft located in Germany and operating during the years 1919 to 1933. It certainly had nothing to do with the United Kingdom. The Goths on the other hand were an East-Germanic tribe operating out of Scandinavia some time in the early centuries of the first millennium post-Christ. Again, you seem to be making erroneous connections between eras, regions and the UK. Perhaps you were thinking of that short period of time in the late 80s when David Bowie fronted Crowded House? Or was it when Chris Bell opened for Son House in the mid-70s?

  2. fotoeins says:

    If I put aside “OK Computer”‘s ubiquity (whose tracks I can still listen a plenty), I think LAGWAFIS would have been my most impactful album of 1997. But rediscovering the album almost 20 years later with a truckload of personal changes in tow has meant the self-titled opening track and “I Think I’m In Love” have far more meaning now than it did in 1997. And that also means finding and listening to as many versions of LAGWAFIS as I can; although truth told, I much prefer the “original Elvis version”.

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