You’ve gotta hand it to Jason Pierce: he is a master of sonics. Throughout Spiritualized’s 30-odd-year existence, he’s consistently fused psychedelia with gospel, free jazz, rock’n’roll, heartbreak blues and country, pushing the envelope with each album even to the brink of madness on his last outing, 2018’s entirely self-recorded ‘And Nothing Hurt’, which NME described as “lush space-pop”. It’s a similar story on album number nine, ‘Everything Was Beautiful’.
Etched from a series of early demos in 2014, Pierce’s latest symphonic offering finds the Spiritualized frontman experimenting with 16 different instruments alongside 30 musicians, including his daughter Poppy, long-time collaborator John Coxon, string, brass sections and choirs. The result is a densely orchestrated record that is as solid as it is sprawling.
Opener ‘Always Together With You’, echoes the title track of Spiritualized’s breakthrough 1997 album ‘Ladies And Gentleman We Are Floating In Space’, right down to Poppy reciting the album’s title at the start (his former partner did the same on the earlier record). Outdoing ‘Ladies And Gentlemen…’ though, this song is far grander and more infectious, as Pierce belts out the chorus’ rousing refrain over and over a backdrop of choral singers.
This is followed by the outstanding ‘Best Thing You Never Had’, a motorik, driving number awash with swirling, dirty guitars, a rowdy brass section and an uplifting gospel choir backed by Pierce’s gravelly vocals as he promises that it’s “gonna be a long ride down to the best thing you never had”.
From there he delves into heartbreak blues ‘Let It Bleed (For Iggy)’ and country (‘Crazy’), before he bookends the second half of the album with three textbook Spiritualized tunes. ‘The Mainline Song’ – which, according to an accompanying statement, was “partly inspired by the protests happening in the US towards the end of the first Lockdown” – races along like a runaway train in the desert, packed with gospel singers and musicians jamming out joyous melodies for three whole minutes.
Of these three mammoth tracks, it is perhaps the magnificent closer ‘I’m Coming Home Again’ that offers this record’s finest moment. At nearly 10 minutes in length, a piece like this might seem self-indulgent and overblown on paper. But its lush, layered sonics make this slow-building, brooding number an absolute joy. It’s a testament to Pierce’s songwriting ability that a track like this also never feels laboured – not with such a master of sonics at the helm.
Release date: April 22
Record label: Bella Union