Review Summary: Taking drugs and listening to music to review music to take drugs to
There are a ridiculous number of things that could be said about this record, all of which are appropriate enough to introduce the band and the album you are currently investigating. I could start off by mentioning how important and overlooked Spacemen 3 were to the 80s alternative music scene, or how tensions between to the two leading members of the band (Kember and Pierce) eventually developed into something akin to the most notorious of band break-ups, or how the bands which spawned from said disbandment (Sonic Boom/Spectrum and Spiritualized, respectively) are just as incredible if not even more amazing then the ashes they came from. But one thing is certain, if I did not once talk about drugs in this review, I’d be neglecting the elephant in the room. As if the title of the album wasn’t enough indication of the relevance that narcotics had on these guys, Spacemen 3 literally pour their recreational activities into the heart and soul of the music they created. It would be hard pressed to convince anyone who isn't in the very least interested in the topic drugs to listen to this album, though it is safe to say that if you are reading this review without ever having listened the record, the stimulant-suggestive artwork and ridiculously blunt album title is what brought you here.
Taking Drugs To Make Music to Take Drugs To
reflects the claustrophobia of any drug binge; how you cannot escape the hypnotic and tedious aura and feeling that a dose will put you through. Grind your teeth all you want, try to swallow the drip in the back of your throat to no avail; these tunes will immerse themselves into your skull with their recreational highs while you attempt to go about whatever business you decided to merge alongside your experience. Best set into the record player with a cup of coffee and a pack of cigarettes on hand, Spacemen 3 brilliantly capture what it was like to exist in a narcotic driven suspension in a time when hippies were no longer socially acceptable and CDs had just begun to outsell vinyl. There is a very minimal and almost monotonous sound on Taking Drugs
, and that only further pushes the idea and overall direction the band was taking. Here you will not find what typically exemplifies psychedelic music: there are no flashy keys or synths, the guitar tone isn't painstakingly played with to create cerebral effects, the vocals are not subdued and ethereal, and the term soundscapes doesn't even come remotely close to being a description. Instead you find the bare bone sound of guitar, bass and drums, each of which sound like they were recorded on a cellphone, the off-key wailing of the vocalists, and the repetitive jam sessions they all contribute to. Most songs use the exact same melody over and over with literally no variation aside from the layering of even more garage-like fuzz. It is very possible that this album could even come off as intolerable, perhaps even unbearable, to the unconditioned mind. But to anyone else, it is unexplainably warm and welcoming.
I believe the song 2.35
best represents this grinding sense of persistence. Like an amphetamine induced concentration, the song’s bass and guitar loops forward with unrelenting repetition, not shifting this progression once throughout the song’s entirety. The grungy and grimy early 90s production sees to only aid the direction this song has taken, as it feels very synthetic, albeit very much human. And even when you think you’ve finally come off of 2.35’s
mind numbing riff, Spacemen 3 refuse to let you sober up: as a total of three versions complete with the exact same riff are shuffled into the tracklisting of the album. And since every single song uses this same approach, the whole album begins to blend together in the most hypnotic fashion. From Come Down Easy
’s mind drilling guitar lead to Amen
’s heart synchronizing bassline, Spacemen 3’s pursuit of unrelenting exposure never lets up. And if you still don't quite understand how a conservative and “samey” sound can be so integral to a record, think The Velvet Underground & Nico
Speaking of which, the influence surrounding Spacemen 3 is very important, and that’s not just because they always seemed to be under it. By this point in time rock n’ roll had practically gone full circle, starting with The Velvet Underground’s explicit yet minimal sounding debut solidifying itself as arguably THE rock album of the century. Releases like The Dark Side of the Moon further suggested the artistic power and importance that rock music could explore, which led to the 70’s infamously indulging and grandiose progressive and glam rock kick. Come the early 80s, disco is the de-facto mainstream and people generally began to agree on the notion that over-calculated and symphonic double concept albums were a bit too much (go figure). So rock musicians did what rock musicians do best: they kept on rocking. Early punk began to take root, seeing the Hammond organ being traded out for… well nothing really, as three piece garage bands became an underground fad. Almost as if in an act of rebellion, this showed bands repurpose their teenage angst into music that just straight up rocked, proving to the older folks that rock isn't always about technical musicianship and orchestrated concepts. Bands like The Jesus and Mary Chain then began to explore the sonic possibilities of this new minimal and barebones rock sound by spicing it up with textures from almost exclusively guitar feedback, three bass stings and a two-piece drum kit. Enter Spacemen 3, who would eventually become the alternative rock band all the late-80s hipsters were talking about. Heavily influenced by the aforementioned The Velvet Underground and The Jesus and Mary Chain, Spacemen 3 became major players in the alternative, post-punk and shoegaze movement (without necessarily even being ambassadors for any of these genres). Bands like My Bloody Valentine toured with S3 in their early days, and undoubtedly took noticed to their hard to explain and conservatively psychedelic sound. To this day the impact this band had made in the British alternative and drug rock scene could not be, and should never be, undone, and reaches as far as bands completely unaware of who Spacemen 3 even are.
While it may seem unnecessary to give all this backstory and praise to the band when this is just a review of one of their albums, the justification lies in the fact that this is, straight-up, their best work. Take my word for it, Taking Drugs
is the ultimate pinnacle of Spacemen 3, a combination of all the band’s efforts and ambitions thrown together in a chaotic medley before the eventuality of their downfall; essentially the album that sits at a time after the band had found its footing and confidence, but before the plaguing disputes and ultimate separation of the two fronting members (who would eventually go on to write separate halves of later records and accuse one another of plagiarism). Here you will find Spacemen 3 at their most raw and powerful, the album being almost exclusively demos from the mid-80s and other alternative versions of songs produced along the way. The lack of glossy production which eventually met some of Spacemen 3’s later material really brings out the in your face garage style of play they were pushing for here. Interestingly enough, this record was never even officially released and was only obtainable through the mass production of bootlegs, perhaps further romanticizing their love for contraband and the lack of involvement of an industry. This is a collection of songs that should not be overlooked by any fan of late 80s and early 90s music, and especially a fan of psychoactive substances. Give it a listen. Everybody is doing it. And one time won’t kill you.