Review Summary: Sometimes your darkest days will help you find your brightest light
It is said that there are only two principle human emotions from which every other form of feeling derives from. One is love and the other is fear. Existing as polar opposites, they have been unconsciously accepted since man’s ancient history, being found written in the form of good and evil, yin and yang, the alpha and omega, and even the light and dark. Today we live in a world drenched in fear and deprived of love. An unspoken truth hangs above humanity, and that truth is our lack of compassion for the most basic blessings in life, and our criticism of where we are heading as a culture. We can’t seem to escape it; we all seem to breathe in fear. Yet we are told that there is a light waiting for us at the end of all our lives. For as far as our memory reaches, we have been indoctrinated with modern man’s idea of love. Your perfect match is destined to walk into your life. You are taught from childhood to look forward to finding “the one”, the man or woman that completes you. Only then will you know what true love is. But this assumes something completely awful, something that couldn't be further from the truth: that as an individual, you are not a whole. Love isn't about filling in any pieces that you do not have, but instead love is about accepting what makes you actually you
, so that you can share this gift of uniqueness and self-acceptance with anyone willing to embrace it.
Sadly for many people, like Spiritualized's songwriter Jason Pierce, the idea of love is likely to become a crutch. It’s destructive to put all of your happiness and love into someone else, because then you are putting all your happiness and love into something completely out of your control. We live in a world of impermanence and you are its only constant. You must find happiness in yourself, for trying to find happiness in someone who can walk away at any moment is a massive gamble on your stability. Pierce’s eventual masterpiece Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space
reflects the excruciating journey of finding oneself. This journey began after what is undoubtedly one of the hardest things a person can be expected to endure: a betrayal of his lover. Midst what he assumed to be a perfect long-term relationship with the band’s keyboardist Kate Radley, she left him for another man (and to make matters worse, that man is Richard Ashcroft). Almost every song on this album can be looked at as one of the many thoughts, feelings, and senses of hopelessness that Pierce, and effectively anyone else, goes through trying to accept reality of a breakup. This isn't some sappy artist whining about being dumped and spewing out how miserable he feels; this is an extremely intelligent and fully realized concept executed beyond all expectations.
Ladies and Gentlemen
begins with its title track, acting as a gorgeous overture for what is to come. An initial intercom recording promptly kicks on, softly repeating (or perhaps informing) to us the album’s name. From there on simple and gorgeous melodies slowly begin to layer upon themselves, ranging from a subtle drum beat, elegant strings, and three simultaneous choir-like vocal samples played in perfect cohesion. Beneath it all staggers a spacious and almost desperate sounding electrocardiograph (you know, a heartbeat monitor?), which ultimately ends as the last note in the song. The lyrics of each sample intertwine beautifully, each singing what sounds like their own song but somehow managing to echo each other’s words. However Jason’s main line stands out above the rest as he repeats: “I can't help falling, falling in love with you”. This leads many to assume the false impression that this is a love song. Instead each listen uncovers new detail to what each vocalist is actually expressing. As is if mirroring the many clouded and unfocused thoughts swirling around a grieving and shattered mind, piecing together each voice reveals the truth. This almost perfectly introduces the concept of a flawed relationship idea, and even perhaps the flawed love itself. This is someone making the mistake of deriving happiness from something that isn't constant, clearly stated himself in his first line: “All I want in life’s a little bit of love to take the pain away”. It is often regarded as one of the best songs the album, though I’d personally struggle to hand out such a title sparingly.
Each and every song thereafter mimics the mind after the loss of this love. Without going into detail, the album utilizes an abundance of simplicity, but manages to engulf the listener in the gorgeous strings and synths that Spiritualized is known for. The sound becomes almost unclassifiable, reaching elements of shoe gaze textures amongst daringly psychedelic keys. However the pacing and structure of the album is near flawless. Amidst the pool of sorrowful orchestrated sadness, songs like “Come Together” and “Electricity” are juxtaposed brilliantly as more rock-oriented tracks. Each still feel soaked in Spiritualized's droning touch, but still manage to stay firmly rooted in the concept. They aim to not only help provide momentum when listening to the record in full, but also represent the angrier and most aggressive side of going through such a betrayal. The totality of it all helps you realize this album is meant to be heard cohesively. It is journey, and provides an impeccable walkthrough for anyone wallowing in a similar state of mind. One of the CD’s editions is even packaged as a mock pharmaceutical prescription, using a dosage recommendation/warning, and each song comes on an individually foil-wrapped 3-inch CD; even further suggesting the power this album has acting as painkiller/heartache remedy.
Lyrically, this album is some of Pierce’s best work. More often than not a song will contain an obvious homage to heavy drug abuse, leaving split opinions on the intended meaning. With phrases such as “warm as the dope running down my spine” and “there’s a hole in my arm where all the money goes”, you’d have to be daft to deny these as anything but direct allusions to heroin. Yet I strongly believe Jason isn't writing about his love for opiate abuse, but rather acknowledging it’s calling as the quintessential break-up drug. I’m sure he had experimented with H’s succubus like embrace (this is a 90s album after all), and it most likely provided him an all too easy escape from the pain of his world. Yet this is making the exact same mistake he had made in the very first song on the album by trying to substitute his own peace and acceptance with an external, and very fragile, form of comfort. My personal favorite lyrics here also come from what I believe to be the opus of the album: “I Think I’m In Love”. After the initial introduction featuring a heavy emphasis on heroin acting as a love remedy, this bluesy and borderline jazz-influenced jam spirals into the catchiest and most hypnotic meters in the band’s discography, played unrelentingly for the rest of the song. Jason sings a brilliant call and response performance, with one end singing out a positive and hopeful declaration, while the other shoots it down completely with a negative and paranoid rationality. Again this album is dabbling into the love and fear duality, and I use all my effort to refrain from quoting every phrase in the song:
I think I can hit the mark
Probably just aiming
I think my name is on your lips
The album ends with the textured and dynamic “Cop Shoot Cop”, stretching over a good amount of 20 minutes. The lounge-esque psychedelic front section eventually erupts into a chaotic shoe gaze descent, before calming back down to the same infectious rhythm. What I find to be most brilliant about this closer is that it offers almost no closure to the album’s concept; after the dense and sweeping journey of Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space
, it returns the listener right back to the same feeling the song began with. You are left wondering what would happen if the final track had ended with one last powerful note, a statement and testimony of its triumphant end that leaves you with a full enough taste to walk away from it completely satisfied. Instead you can’t help but want more, and to go back and rediscover what the record has to offer. But that is ultimately how a love dies, is it not? No matter how much you yearn for the final epilogue for one of the greatest stories of your life, you are ruthlessly denied that vital piece. What Pierce must have realized is that his mistake was letting his love define him. This album is undoubtedly his most popular (even appearing in Rolling Stones’ greatest albums of all time list), and he has often spoken of it humbly as an achievement that he still doesn't feel capable of. Yet it is interesting to realize his most prized and glorified accomplishment came out of his darkest times, and was achieved when he couldn't have been more alone.