Splendid Albums: Spiritualized – Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space
This week, Karen Leng looks at Spiritualized's 1997 gem Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space.
When I first heard Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space I felt as though my heart would break and my ears would explode. Spiritualized's third album is immensely grand, but also intensely intimate.
Despite the numerous references to drugs, it is the heartbreak behind the songs which is most affecting.
It's one of those all too rare albums that haunt you long after the final notes fade away.
It is, in short, a masterpiece and one of the greatest albums of the 1990s.
Led by Jason Pierce, Spiritualized emerged from the ashes of experimental British guitar band Spacemen 3 in 1990.
By 1997 the band had released two acclaimed albums of noisy '60s influenced shoegaze rock, which sat on the fringes of the prevailing Britpop scene in the UK.
But the vision explored on Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space was a quantum leap forward for Pierce.
He embraced gospel, soul and blues to expand the band’s rich musical tapestry.
It’s hard to separate narcotic love from all the soul searching throughout the album. But despite the numerous references to drugs and the artwork itself, it is the heartbreak behind the songs which is most affecting.
At the time of writing the album Pierce had recently broken up with keyboardist Kate Radley. She married Richard Ashcroft of The Verve in a secret ceremony in 1995. Ouch.
Although Pierce has often played down the autobiographical nature of the songs, it is hard to imagine how he could write lyrics so raw and compelling without experiencing hardship himself.
"All I want in life's a little bit of love to take the pain away. Getting strong today, a giant step each day" Pearce sings on the hypnotic title track. It’s a mantra which sets the scene for the 70 minute odyssey which follows.
Aided by the London Gospel Choir, as well as the acclaimed Balanescu String Quartet and New Orleans legend Dr John, the album swells and expands as songs bleed one into another. The powerhouse drumming, propulsive riffs and white hot guitars of 'Electricity' signal an artist screaming for release, while the tender melody of 'Broken Heart' unfurls slowly to reveal unbearable pain.
Lyrics aside, much of the magic of Ladies and Gentlemen... lies in the meticulous construction. Tiny musical details, a tinkling piano or lonesome harp, gorgeous violins set against soaring keys and layers of guitar fuzz. Up to 20 musicians have brought the album to the stage and you can hear a taste of this on Spiritualized’s amazing live recording Royal Albert Hall October 10 1997.
To listen to this album as individual songs seems to somehow short change the entire experience. You're best off running the gauntlet with Jason Pierce from start to finish. Check yourself for bruises at the end.
Spiritualized play Splendour In The Grass on Friday 24 July.
Hear Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space in full from 9am this Sunday morning on Double J.