Spiritualized, ‘Songs in A&E’

By • Jul 8th, 2008 • Category: Album Reviews

There are a number of “cellar door” phrases so sincerely constructed that hearing them said to you is exhilarating.

“Zero calories.” “Tax deductible.” “You were right; I’m sorry.”

The beauty of these expressions is that we convince ourselves they will always be true. There’s an emotional contract we presumably sign during these sorts of dialogues acknowledging that taking the phrase back would be crushing. There’s a sense of security that the speaker put his or her John Hancock on that imaginary dotted line before letting the words escape their lips.

Try uttering, “I love you” – arguably the most important three-word stanza in the English language – and then saying you no longer mean it. Watch the look on parents’ faces if “Your newborn is healthy” gets rescinded. When a perfect phrase is withdrawn, it shakes the foundation on which all our relationships are built. If something so flawless can turn sour, what chance does everything else stand?

The title of Jason Pierce’s 1997 album is one of these ideal moments. Spiritualized’s Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space is not only an expansive collection of dream-pop wizardry, but the name alone implies a degree of triumph. To be told that one is weightless in orbit is to reach a pinnacle that so few have experienced. It’s recognition of years of sacrifice delivered by elite company, a cue to rejoice for a dream that’s come true.

Yes, Pierce knew what he was doing when naming that neo-masterpiece. But how does one come down from that high? There’s a reason NASA extensively tests crewmembers’ psyches. And the still-high rate of post-orbit depression isn’t a coincidence. Everything after touchdown gets a bit less important, and the motivation for greatness subsides when the realization sinks in that, no matter what, nothing will top what already has been accomplished.

For the past decade, Pierce has wanted to craft a Spiritualized release with the same (anti)gravity as Ladies and Gentlemen. And for years, he’s come up short with haphazard release after uninspired release. It’s as if he knew he couldn’t quite record a similar follow-up, but that wasn’t going to stop him from pretending that he could. It’s like an Apollo member returning from the moon to spend afternoons in a carnival Moonbounce, trying to convince everyone that it’s not that different. No one believes it; but everyone in the crowd hopes that the confused phase dies naturally.

For Pierce, that came almost literally. The songwriter found himself bedridden in a hospital’s Accident & Emergency ward (A&E, or the Emergency Room stateside) battling double pneumonia. Although Songs in A&E comes almost five years since Spiritualized’s last output, the front man has been anything but lethargic. Quite the opposite, as he was forced to battle for his life and put music on hold. And much like how Ladies and Gentlemen’s title invoked victorious imagery, so does A&E – just on a more personal level.

If astronauts need something to compete with their satellite view of Earth, overcoming a long-term near-death experience might be the jolt they need to reconnect with society. It’s what Pierce needed to rediscover his muse.

What results is an 18-song LP that runs the gauntlet from rocking blues to clamorous instrumentals. If the 18-second “Harmony 3 (Voice)” is too abrupt to embrace, then the 7-minute “Baby I’m Just A Fool” should be indulgent enough. Gospel choruses, fuzzy feedback, sparse acoustic guitars, gritty vocals, orchestral arrangements and even a brazen riff or two get tucked into this hour-long LP.

But more importantly, so does a celebratory purpose. That’s been the thing missing on those releases since Ladies and Gentlemen. For more than a decade, Spiritualized has floundered like an astronaut still in shock that the task was over, surprised that he wouldn’t always be weightless and blaming Mission Control for recalling such a perfect sentence.

Well, Jason Pierce, congratulations, you are “floating in space” again. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Soundcheck Magazine, July 2008

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