Spiritualized, Let It Come Down, 2001

I played this a lot in 2001. I’d moved to Japan that year, was living alone for the first time, out in some small Tokyo-satellite town, bought myself a great Bose system for my tiny apartment and played an awful lot of music that year—no flatmates to annoy, although the walls of my apartment may as well have been made of cardboard. I read a lot of books too during that time while I slowly made friends and acquaintances and went exploring. Let It Come Down will forever remind me of that period of my life, along with Tindersticks’ Can Our Love… and Mercury Rev’s All Is Dream.

I played this album inside out—and I was bowled over by it. It seems rather over the top now, but it’s more instantly memorable and melodic than the previous three albums had been, with lots of hooky lyrics to get your head inside. The album slowly “comes down” though, and is once again structured like some kind of trip as the previous Spiritualized albums have been. My original CD came with three-dimensional optical illusion packaging where that female head could be see in two different ways—one a Buddhist-like expression of serenity and the other a wide-eyed stare into the heavens.

What I’ve always liked about Let It Come Down is that Pierce sings about everything that is theoretically wrong or bad in a way that turns popular conceptions on their head in a head-on defiant way and seems to be thoroughly enjoying doing so—at least for the first four songs anyway. There’s a punk spirit infused into the life of those tracks, or if not quite punk, at least a Wildean sense of playfulness.

On Fire… bursts into life with a high fast tinkling piano motif that then gets pushed out by a note of feedback, roaring guitars and a pounding piano rhythm with J Spaceman telling us how he’s “on fire” with no way of putting himself out. But he sings it without regret, a great release, a proud “I did it my way” moment. Great opening lines: “Let’s see how far we can fly before the sun melts the wax on our wings,” which later turns into, “Let’s see how fast we can go before our eyes can’t follow the road.” The gospel choir doo-doos in the background, but essentially this is a rocker with some screechy horns, great chorus, rippling piano lines, with an intense electronic sheen and the main theme: “Come on my love / Come on my child / Let heaven flow / Into your soul / Let it come on down / Ease away the pain / You won’t feel / That way again.” So, apparently we’re on the comedown then, although this song is too upbeat and exciting to really translate any kind of downer onto the listener. Great opener and great fade out with the chorus: “Into your soul / into your soul / into your soul,” etc.

Do It All Over Again… opens with an energetic chiming melody while Pierce tells his listener, “you’d better come right down and do it all over again,” in what is quite a glorious upbeat melody with a gorgeous instrumental break and deep pounding bass drum bombs with effective use of a cymbal beat, almost Beatlesy. All the trademarks of the Spiritualized sound are in force, but on earlier albums where blaring horns and screeching strings were used to dissonant effect, here Pierce seems to have discovered a newfound love for soaring melody. This song is magnificent; an optimism pervades the mood, with lines like, “You’ve gotta hope for the best and the best looks great now, baby,” even while he’s planning on sleeping his life away. He’s defiant on these songs though, like he’s sending out a challenge to anyone who’d denigrate him. “I don’t think a few words of mine are gonna make your world go round / I’m sitting here looking at the TV burning holes in everything that I get” as if to say, no, I’ve not got it all sorted but who gives a shizen? He’s singing about coming down and getting straight back up again to ruin himself in some kind of self-punishing survivor-cycle. There’s a full orchestral pop aesthetic in force here: shimmering Telecaster, marimbas, tympani, tubular bells, saxophones, trumpets, trombones, clarinets and violins, minimoogs, Farfisa compact, Hammond organ etc etc.

Don’t Just Do Something… opens with sentimental strings and uses what I’d call a ‘nursery rhyme’ kind of melody with a vocal that winds up and down—the Icarus theme returns from the first song: “Sometime I get to fly so high / That the sun burns my wings but I will fly / Just a little too far / Cause that’s where you are / And I won’t bring you down, believe in me.” Behind this, meandering strings glide and swoop, a vibraphone melody and woodwind whines. It’s all orchestral and quite beautiful. When the first rhythmic verse ends, the tension all drops out into a swinging romantic dreamy slow swaying piece of gospel beauty: “Oh babe, I’m going nowhere / Nowhere is where I wanna be / And I’m good for nothing, nothing is good enough for me / Anything, anything can come to anybody / Everything, everything can come to someone, sometime.” The theme here seems to be defiance again, against everything and everybody, as if to say, “yeah, well, whatever,” or an erect mid-digit to authority and normality and common sense: “Although life goes on, I can plainly see / All this common sense made a fool of me.” It’s essentially someone embracing everything that’s theoretically ‘bad’ for you and saying “screw you, this is wonderful being a nihilist” and he’s totally getting off on this strange mix of optimism and nihilism. He needs a drink. “I can say with pride / Hold my head up high / That I had a good idea but nevermind.” And the chorus flies in the face of respectability: “Sometimes I like to sit around /And just contemplating sitting round / I could lay in bed like my Momma said / Don’t just do something, sit around instead.” But what makes all of this work so well is the wondrous melody and heightened sense of grandeur among all the rich instrumentation. Love the ending too, lovely harmonizing and the final line, “Life ain’t good without cigarettes.”

Out Of Sight… continues the heightened feel with more dramatic strings and a slow build in pensive mood. The lyrics comprise a set of clever aphorisms turned upside down and inside out: “Out of sight is always out of mind / I think out of mind is out of sight,” and “If I am good, I could add years to my life / I would rather add some life to my years.” The lyrics continue to riff on these half-puns, as each line leads into the next one like a series of interconnected steps: that last line turns into, “Life is really what you make it they say / I can’t even make my mind up today.” We get a brief swell of whining horns and crashing waves before the second verse starts up. Content-wise the song is the usual lament that day to day life is a drag and the only way to deal with this is to cram intense experiences into every waking hour, and if that leaves you an empty shell so be it; hence “out of mind is out of sight” and another great line: “They say that pride comes just before a fall / I have fallen and I wasn’t proud.” These admissions betray a kind of honesty that make us want to cheer for the Spaceman underdog. The song is probably a little ostentatious in its use of orchestra, but I don’t want to sound churlish. The instrumental breaks are pretty wah-monica intense which prevents the song from spilling into sentiment. Great tune.

The Twelve Steps… is a fast rocker, referring to a drug rehabilitation program although Pierce seems to enjoy mocking it in this song. Sarcasm: “I was very nearly clean you know / Cause I only had twelve steps to go,” Wry observations: “The only time I’m drink and drug free / Is when I get my drugs and drink for free,” and poker-face: “If your willpower’s weak, temptation’s strong,” or bitter irony: “Group therapy gets me depressed.” Pierce’s voice is processed into the same sonic band as the guitars, a thrashy feel, until the swoozy ‘gospel’ break which lasts about ten seconds before a wicked rollicking rhythm starts up and sirens bleed into the mix, ambulance, police, but this is an effective touch. Eventually the driving thrash starts up again, harder and faster, and again you inevitably find yourself singing along. Speed. Sirens. And this line which bridges the Jesus theme into the next song: “And I don’t believe in Jesus Christ / I’d rather spend my cash on vice.” The end of the song finishes with a list of “steps” counting from one to twelve, although the comments that follow are mostly inaudible, other than “step twelve / back to one / start all over again.”

The Straight And The Narrow… is more of a pleasant melodic vibra-ballad, nice tinkerbell cymbal rhythm. The song is pretty ‘straight-forward’: “And if Jesus is the straight path that saves / Then I’m condemned to live my whole life on the curb.” “I guess I’m so easily led astray / It’s all right cos I know my own way back home from here.” The mid-tempo feel makes the song less of a stand-out than the previous four numbers. The chorus: “The trouble with the straight and the narrow / Is it’s so thin, I keep sliding off to the side / And the devil makes good use of these hands of mine.” Funny, but I am starting to feel like I’ve heard it all before. “You know I’ve got a little problem or two / I guess I keep on taking a few / I’ve been told it’s not the best thing I can do right now.” The strings get a bit too faux-dramatic in this song, and it’s about here that you start to feel that Pierce is overcompensating, and while the song is a sumptuous dreamy enough affair, with an interesting lyric, the song starts to get quietly desperate toward the end. One wonders though why Jesus makes so many appearances in Pierce’s lyrics. He pops up like a magician’s rabbit all over the place. It’s a non-issue, but clearly for Pierce, a major one.

I Didn’t Mean To Hurt You… crisp acoustic guitar followed by a twinkling piano riff and low drum beats. A love song, the beat changes slightly, and the opening lyric repeated over: “I love you like I love the sunrise in the morning / I miss you like I miss the water when I’m burning / I didn’t mean to hurt you dear / The words just came out wrong / Now I’m broken down and lonely and I can’t get along.” The strings saw back and forth slowly in time with the drum. Something like an alto sax adds a couple of curlicues, but generally the song is a kind of transitional piece of sorts, with the focus on the lyrics. After three minutes or so, it pauses before picking up again, a little louder, and builds into ever-increasing circles of drama, keyboards, synths, organs. A little too portentous perhaps, and ultimately, a little bland.

Stop Your Crying… love this opening line: “Nothing hurts you like the pain of someone you love.” Ouch, true, and he goes on, “There ain’t nothing you can gain that prepares you enough.” Then we get a big ba-boom and the gospel choir starts up with the title/chorus, “Come on baby, stop your crying / Come on baby, stop your crying now.” It goes a little meandery for a minute, but the chorus is quite gorgeous. But like “I Didn’t Mean To Hurt You,” for which this song acts as post-script, the song seems only to have two tricks up its sleeve: a wasted sounding Pierce vocal, and that (admittedly quite magnificent) gospel chorus. It’s immensely likable but under close listening conditions comes across as a little bankrupt, even if that opening line was singularly one of the greatest in rock history.

Anything More… is another large-sounding soft billowy number, all clouds and breezes through willow treezes, while Pierce wishy-washes on about the damage “that you’ve done inside,” and once again exhorts his “baby” not to cry. It’s slow and the first song here I find a little dull. Too airy-fairy, and the lyrics just seem like a re-hash of the previous three or four numbers. “There’s no use in crying,” and “there’s so little time to do something / Something / Anything more.” Too abstract. The dreamy orchestration is so nice it’s dreary. Perhaps this is the come down beginning.

Won’t Get To Heaven (The State I’m In)… in which Pierce sings to “Lord” again, claiming that he believes he’s damaged, wrong, and lonely, thus pleads for “one more chance,” which doesn’t really make any sense in the light of songs like “The Straight And The Narrow,” “On Fire” and “Do It All Over Again.” He seems to have begun regretting, and now I’m getting a sense of the overarching narrative here. In those early songs he was high and now he’s suffering. The song opens with a faint ticking sound, a few piano notes, warped wind, a sparse kind of sound, empty fields, emptied mind. A phased electric guitar and vast violin sound, this is prettier than the previous song, and when the gospel choir start up, it gets momentarily exciting. There’s a real weariness here, which should make for interesting plot development but it seems somehow at odds with the strings. Although, there’s a break and those weird concrete sounds come back to form a bed beneath Pierce’s semi-whispered vocals. He then goes all Pink Floyd on us, the music drifts away and around you get distracted and forget what was happening, but what is the point? Where’s he taking us with this? “I’m hoping / Praying / Lord I’m saying / I believe my time ain’t long.” Towards death? The song builds into a sustained crescendo of wild warbling, the choir, cymbal crashes, a pounding beat, horns, but it all sounds like a desperate attempt to reascend the heights of Ladies & Gentlemen, and I feel like we’ve already been here, in a better way. A droning aeroplane sound takes the song into fade out territory, and this seems like a case of adding more and more to make up for what’s lacking. Still, it’s a minor epic, I suppose. Must be the longest song here, though it doesn’t quite have the majesty of “Cop Shoot Cop.”

Lord Can You Hear Me… ah, that old familiar church organ sound, just three or four notes ringing away, and Pierce, alone, once more asking “Lord” to help him out, as he touches on the suicide option: “I’d take my life, but I’m in doubt / Just where my soul will lie / Deep in the earth or way up in the sky.” That’s an honest call. The rest of the lyrics have Pierce asking Lord, “can you hear me when I call.” The question I have though is, is he really “calling?” Perhaps he is. Perhaps there’s something genuine in that for him. Musically, we get a beat, and a few bent notes on guitar. He uses gospel choir to ask the question once he runs out of steam. Halfway through, the volume doubles, vistas of churning electric guitar, sky-piercing organ tones, high notes from the choir, as Pierce aims for “way up in the sky,” and if Lord can’t hear him, he’s gonna go right up there and call louder, and that’s what he needs the gospel choir for. He better hope Lord’s not sleeping else he gets a slap in the face. Quite a neat ending.

I’ve been listening to this on and off for years without really considering the trajectory, but now that I’ve traced it closely, I can see how the spiritual journey works, and why the album is frontloaded with the best tunes, and why it slowly fades. I guess the band couldn’t translate a “come down” without first providing a high, and in that sense this is another clever concept album, although Pierce seems to be running out of ideas on the second half. My general opinion though has changed since listening to this recently, and I find it the least interesting Spiritualized album so far, despite my enjoyment of it.

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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