What you hold in your hand is the best British rock record of the last 20 years. The album was released in 1997 in the middle of the Britpop years, but stood out by making most other bands seem lightweight, one-dimensional and "of their time". It beat albums by Radiohead (Ok Computer) and The Verve (Urban Hymns) to the top of the NME's "Albums of the Year" and was Top 10 in many other publications end of year polls.
Spiritualized, aka Jason Pierce (aka J Spaceman), took the basic principles of rock 'n' roll, blues and soul and reinvigorated them. He took the music he loved, with all its associated past times, problems and emotions, and made a timeless, modern classic that sounds as fresh today as it did in 1997.
Make no mistake, despite the NME accolade, this is no indie record, rather a supremely heavy rock and soul album that charts the highest highs and the lowest lows of the human condition in as visceral a way you're likely to hear in your lifetime.
It was made at Mole Studios in Bath and then at sessions during a road trip across America, which called in at L.A, Memphis and New Orleans. Collaborators include legendary producer Jim Dickinson, pianist Dr John, BJ Cole, Pierce's close friend and free jazz musician John Coxon, saxophonist Ray Dickety, the London Community Gospel choir and the Balanescu Quartet.
The album begins with Jason's long-time musical collaborator, and then girlfriend, Kate Radley announcing "Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space" on a telephone call that sounds and feels like it's being made from a space station. Most of the tracks originated from Jason singing basic ideas into a Panasonic Dictaphone and on the title track you hear how that original recording would have sounded. The track then builds and builds with layers and layers of ascending chords, a lovelorn guitar slide and the London Community Gospel Choir appearing towards the song's finale. On the original version of the track, Spaceman and the choir sang the refrain from "I Can't Help Falling In Love With You", but permission for the use of the lyrics was restricted by the Presley estate. However, rights were permitted this time around and the track is once again back to how it was originally intended.
Contrasting the title tracks lovelorn, haunting beauty, "Come Together", is one of the best high energy rock songs that Spaceman has ever written. The London Community Gospel Choir's voices combine with a wall of guitars and a riff that's been stolen countless times by younger bands since the album's release.
"I Think I'm In Love" was originally demoed during a trip into the Joshua Tree desert. A shaky Dictaphone demo was built into a weird voodoo rock show tune. It's got some of Spaceman's most memorable lines, constantly questioning the validity of his life, love and emotions.
"All Of My Thoughts" is the first of the album's tracks to bring the noise / free jazz / experimental side of Spiritualized to the fore. It's a beautiful hymn to love that descends into barely controlled chaos, with nods to Sun Ra Arkestra and the MC5's more noisy, psychedelic moments. It's followed by the lovely "Stay With Me", a song that recalls the love songs of Spacemen 3, this time with deeper, more lush instrumentation.
"Electricity" was the first single released from L&G. It's a pacey, narcotic garage rock song seemingly about the joys of doing things that make you go faster. It sounds like driving through the desert at night at a hundred miles an hour, listening to The Stooges with someone too high to steer at the wheel while somebody in the back seat sets off eight strobe lights at the same time.
"The Home Of The Brave" is the album's mid-point, signaling a descent into darker, heavier, more emotional songs. It opens with lyrics like "I sometimes take my breakfast right off the mirror / And sometimes I'll have it right out of a bottle, c'mon" before sliding into a free jazz noise squall which continues into an electrified drone of saxophones, guitars and brass called "The Individual", named after saxophonist Terry Edwards' neck tattoo.
All this caterwaul and chaos subsides into a song called "Broken Heart" which is of such beauty and depth that recalling how it sounds gives me goosebumps. The Balanescu Quartet provide a lovely, minor key, backdrop to Spaceman singing "And I'm crying all the time / I have to drink you right off of my mind / I've been told that this will heal given time / Lord I have a broken heart" . They may read like traditional blues lyrics on paper but they're delivered in such a way on this record that anybody unmoved by this song needs to check if they still have a pulse.
Then suddenly the band lurches into the awesome free jazz / noise jam "No God, Only Religion" before going back once again to a gorgeous love song in "Cool Waves". It's an epic lullaby about everlasting love that, perhaps, conjures up the feeling of "Floating In Space" more than any track on the record. And then, as the song waltzes off into the universe, with string section, flautists and horns cascading down on Spaceman and the LGC intoning "Cool waves wash over me" over and over again, you'd be forgiven for thinking that was the end of a great record. How wrong you'd be.
What follows is "Cop Shoot Cop". It's 16 plus minutes of voodoo rock, driven along by legendary New Orleans pianist Dr John. With lyrics lifted from John Prine's 'Sam Stone' ("there's a hole in my arm where all my money goes") and instrumentation that's seemingly lifted from the people who make the music both in heaven AND hell. And then you think back to the rest of the album and realize: "Oh yeah, that's what's been happening the whole time I've been listening to this."