Rock'n'roll, in a very large nutshell.
There’s little doubt now that Spiritualized’s last studio album (1997’s
‘Ladies And Gentlemen, We Are Floating In Space’) was a truly extraordinary achievement. Not only did it map out a wonderfully ambitious new blueprint for rock’n’roll by effortlessly fusing gospel and free jazz with taut garage rock and neo-classical strings, it also succeeded in burrowing its way into a wider public consciousness.
The perception of it as songwriter Jason Pierce’s heartbreak record (its arrival coincided with news of the marriage of his one-time girlfriend Kate Radley to Richard Ashcroft) helped it to become the band’s most commercially successfully album, in the process dragging them from mere cult concern to something akin to (i)importance(i).
This, then, is the first SPIRITUALIZED album to arrive, bearing the heavy weight of expectation. Its first single (the magnificently heartwrenching ‘Stop Your Cryin’) was playlisted by Radio One a full two months prior to its release, and there’s a belief that this album is their ‘Urban Hymns’ – the crossover record that will finally establish them as a mainstream staple. It’s an assertion that’s hard to disagree with.
‘Let It Come Down’ is another towering achievement – both musically and emotionally. As usual, Pierce has drawn his inspiration from a wide pool – everything from Ray Charles’ country and western LPs made at the end of the ’50s and start of the ’60s to Dennis Wilson’s ‘lost’ heartbreak album ‘Pacific Ocean Blue’. The result is a beautiful 70 minute swathe of densely orchestrated, richly symphonic sound. Gone are the free-jazz detonations that characterized ‘Ladies And Gentlemen’ and in its place is a grander, more reflective sound that sees Pierce finally staking his claim as a classic songwriter.
It’s been billed (by NME as well as others) as his rehab record largely on the strength of titles like ‘The Straight And The Narrow’ and ‘The Twelve Steps’. Actually, it’s nothing of the sort. Just check out the lyrics to ‘The Twelve Steps’ (“(i)I know I’m never going to find Jesus Christ/So I’d rather spend my cash on vice(i)”) or ‘Out Of Sight’ (“(i)If I am good I could add years to my life/I would rather add some life to my years(i)”), and you’ll realise this isn’t the sound of a man on the wagon.
Instead, like its predecessor, ‘Let It Come Down’ is a work of intense emotional resonance. Pierce mixes junkie jokes about burning holes in his clothes (‘Do It All Over Again’) with his usual wry sense of opiated self-obsession. The album ends with a burning 10 minute gospel called ‘Won’t Get To Heaven (‘The State I’m In’)’ and then a reprise of the classic Spacemen 3 track ‘Lord Can You Hear Me?’ As an encapsulation of Pierce’s ever more expansive sonic manifesto (much of this album was recorded live at Abbey Road with up to 100 musicians) it’s difficult to see how it could have been topped.
Unlike Radiohead , who responded to ‘OK Computer’ being heralded as the best record of their career by retreating into avant-garde electronica, Pierce has confronted the challenge of bettering ‘Ladies And Gentlemen…’ head on. ‘Let It Come Down’ isn’t the sound of a band touched by genius, it’s the sound of one born with it. This is music as it’s meant to be: raw, colossal and awe-inspiring. No wonder everything else just pales in comparison.