Reissue Of The Week: Spiritualized’s Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space

Patrick Clarke recalls a teenage rite of passage with Spiritualized's third album proper as the soundtrack, and considers how it sounds now, in 2021, that the dust has settled

In my early teens, a friend and I smoked our first spliff in a memorial cloister. Envisaged as a tribute to the wireless officer of RMS Titanic (the village’s most famous son), in the years since its construction it was used primarily as a urinal. Neither of us had yet figured out how to roll joints, so we bought a cheap machine from Camden market that supposedly did it for you, producing lollipop-stick spliffs so compacted that the effort of inhaling them alone was enough to make you light-headed. My friend – whose taste in music always felt somehow more sophisticated than mine – said he had the perfect album to enhance what we were anticipating would be a significant life event, a record called Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space. We took one tinny earphone each on his iPod nano.

The combination of my non-existent tolerance of drugs, the faint stench of old piss, the shredded nerves of a sheltered teenager breaking a very minor law, and the giddy thrill of having acquired weed in a village where the later arrest of the one dealer would see the police declare victory in the war on drugs, made for a weird, giddy headspace that did, in fact, feel pretty intense. As the serene orchestral-gospel swells of the opening title track swept elegantly into ‘Come Together’, with its relentless chugging drone, infernal squalls of guitar and all-consuming rushes of brass, things really did start to feel like the life-changing psychedelic experience we had naively anticipated from what was, in retrospect, quite a weak spliff. Jason Pierce’s voice felt so direct amid the colossal whirl of noise, thrusting in perfect time with the droning bass, his words transfixing and cryptic: “Those tracks of time those tracks of mine/ Little Johnny’s occupied.”

‘I Think I’m In Love’ came next, where again, Pierce sounded like a genius. “I think you got me in a spin now/ Probably just turning/ I think I’m a fool for you babe/ Probably just learning” felt like the deepest, wittiest lyrics I’d ever heard. Not long afterwards, some pensioners enjoying the nearby 12th century church walked past and gave us a dirty look, so we left before I could hear the rest of the record. Yet the spell had been cast. I bought Ladies And Gentlemen on CD shortly afterwards – its pill packet design felt like a masterpiece in itself – and submerged myself in a world that felt galaxies away from the staid indie rock I’d previously heard. Even when the novelty wore off, and my wider music taste (and drug intake) began to get more sophisticated, it was music that had the power to totally transport; a live rendition of ‘Come Together’ at Liverpool Psych Fest in 2015 was so magnificent that by the end I couldn’t work out if my shirt was still on.

All of this took place more than a decade after Ladies And Gentlemen was actually released, yet at no point did it feel like ‘old’ music. There was nothing of 1997, or any year, in its sound – the music was so big and so bold that the Gregorian Calendar paled in insignificance. Those who heard the record on its release, too, commented on its timelessness. “The work of a man who, having assimilated an army of influences […] has managed to create an entirely new noise out of the wreckage,” said NME’s Paul Moody in his review. Even the cover, in its homage to the simple and unchanging design of prescription medicine, hasn’t dated the way the art for its predecessor Pure Phase has, for example. Upon its reissue, the third in Fat Possum Records’ ongoing series of 180g double vinyl remasters, it still seems to operate in a dimension apart from such petty concerns as legacy and nostalgia. It’s a sublime remaster, the record’s dynamic peaks and troughs more dramatic than ever. The mass of instrumentation, from the subtlest whirling synth line to the most seismic tsunami of sound, are finely balanced like the interlacing orbits of a solar system. With this little sonic touch-up, the music still sounds entirely fresh.

Yet, for all of that, it’s hard to imagine that a record like Ladies And Gentlemen could be made in 2021. In press material looking back at its recording, the majority of Pierce’s recollections concern his Odyssean search for the perfect sound: “I went all over the place to make it […] I went to Memphis to see [country musician] Jim Dickinson for two weeks […] There were some mixes from the ole A&M studio on La Brea in Los Angeles. Part of the reason that I’ve never received any royalties from any of these records is that I was always thinking, ‘Well where should I go now?’ Suddenly the move from Rugby to London was small-time compared with ‘well can I do this in L.A, can I do it in Memphis, can I do it again?’ And then ‘Can I fly out to New York and put Dr John on the record?’”

These kinds of air miles are, it goes without saying, now far beyond the budget of just about every band of the size Spiritualized were in the mid-90s. If, by some miracle of privilege, it could be managed, it would be irresponsible in an age of climate catastrophe.

There isn’t, of course, a complete absence of musicians with the same scale of artistic vision as Spiritualized, and cross-country collaboration is more common now than ever before thanks to technology and the forced restraints of the pandemic, but it’s of an altogether different tone – the sound of squeezing every last drop from limited time and space, rather than reclining into boundless resources. Although it doesn’t sound remotely dated, then, by virtue of logistics Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space now feels like the music of the past. It’s a shame, although perhaps fitting, that in an effort to make the reissues of their first four albums appear uniform, that the immortal artwork has been replaced by a cartoony clip-art style image that feels dated already.

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