Spiritualized - Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space
WHILST it is not celebrating an anniversary…
IN THIS PHOTO: Spiritualized’s Kate Radley and Jason Pierce/PHOTO CREDIT: NME
I wanted to put Spiritualized’s Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space into Vinyl Corner because it is one of those important records I discovered in high-school. You can buy a vinyl copy here…and, whilst it is hard to find a new copy for sale, if you can get a used copy then I suggest you do! I understand the origin of Spiritualized’s third album stems from the philosophical novel, Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder. The band felt that philosophers are the only people – apart from writers, perhaps – who explore the limits and boundaries of existence and language. In a sense, the album is an investigation of sound’s possibilities and where you can take music. Maybe the title is reference to the fact that, whilst the group float in space and explore, people down on Earth do not care. It is an interesting thought and one that you carry with you when you listen to the record. It is not to say Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space is solely about exploration and discovery: Jason Pierce and Kate Radley of the band split up shortly before the album was recorded. That might suggest a lot of heartache but, in fact, a lot of the songs were recorded before the break-up. Spiritualized crafted success and great feedback from their first two albums but Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space was their big breakthrough.
Jason Pierce and Sean Cook started work on demo recordings during 1995. The band started recording the album in full a few weeks later but it took a little while for everything to come together and gel. There was a bit of movement between studios but, eventually, the band had this terrific record that sounded like nothing else. Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space is viewed as one of the best albums of the 1990s and gained enormous reviews when it was released on 16th June, 1997. Just considered the way the musical landscape had changed in the years leading up to the record coming out. Cast your mind back to 1994 and 1995 and there was a lot of Britpop in the air. Sure, artists like Alanis Morissette and Björk were around then but a lot of British pop was dominating. By 1997, acts like The Prodigy, Radiohead and Sleater-Kinney were starting to take over. I think the scene was more open and diverse and it allowed albums such as Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space to gain more focus. That is not to say Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space would have been lost if it was released in 1994; one feels it would have struggled to slot into a time when music was very different. The reviews were, as I said, immense and universally positive.
I want to bring in a couple of post-1997 reviews that highlight the merits of this masterpiece. Here, in this AllMusic review, they are full of praise:
“Spiritualized's third collection of hypnotic headphone symphonies is their most brilliant and accessible to date. Largely forsaking the drones and minimalistic, repetitive riffs which have characterized his work since the halcyon days of Spacemen 3, Jason Pierce re-focuses here and spins off into myriad new directions; in a sense, Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, with its majestic, Spector-like glow, is his classic rock album. "Come Together" and the blistering "Electricity" are his most edgy, straightforward rockers in eons, while the stunning "I Think I'm in Love" settles into a divided-psyche call-and-response R&B groove, and the closing "Cop Shoot Cop" (with guest Dr. John) locks into a voodoo blues trance. Lyrically, Pierce is at his most open and honest: The record is a heartfelt confessional of love and loss, with redemption found only in the form of drugs -- designed, no less, to look like a prescription pharmaceutical package, Ladies and Gentlemen is pointedly explicit in its description of drug use as a means of killing the pain on track after track. Conversely, never before have the literal implications of the name "Spiritualized" been explored in such earnest detail -- the London Community Gospel Choir appears prominently on a number of songs, while another bears the title "No God, Only Religion," pushing the music even further toward the kind of cosmic gospel transcendence it craves. A masterpiece”.
IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Radley, Jason Pierce and Terry Tolkin of Spirtualized/PHOTO CREDIT: ht
Pitchfork provided a thorough investigation when the Collectors’ Edition came out in 2010:
“After all, it's an album mostly without a clear hit single, a massive production better enjoyed as a whole than in bits and pieces. Though Spiritualized eventually released edits, remixes, or reworkings of "I Think I'm in Love", "Come Together", and "Electricity", those songs thrive best in the context of the album-- in their original, much more grand iterations. "I Think I'm in Love", for instance, flows brilliantly from "Come Together" and, eight minutes later, its dénouement shapes the perfect non-introduction to the casual piano of "All of My Thoughts". In the interim, Pierce reveals the breadth of the band's ideas and influence. The first half combines Spacemen 3's LaMonte Young-like 20th century composition (with its growling synthesizer drone), dub, soul (with its thick, stunted bass line), American blues (with its twisted harmonica howls), and folk (Pierce's subtle autoharp strums). The back half is a sassy, baritone saxophone-backed dialogue between Pierce's self-confidence and his self-doubt: "I think that I can rock'n'roll," he sings. "Probably just twisting," he answers. And on "Come Together", one of only a few Ladies and Gentlemen tunes you're likely to still hear live, Pierce fancies himself a young man that's sad and fucked (a word he manages to use five times in as many minutes here) amid references to suicide, heroin, and busted dreams”.
One does not need to be a fan of Space-Rock and Spiritualized’s sound to be a fan of Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space…
You listen to Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space now and it still sounds breathtaking and sublime. It is not a product of its time like a lot of albums from the 1990s. Instead, you can listen to this album at any time and in any mood and feel transported and floored. It is so immersive and transforming; one learns something about themselves and finds emotions they didn’t know they had. It is hard to put into words just how affecting and stunning the album is – one needs to listen to and see what I mean. Although vinyl is the best format for it, it is fairly tricky finding it at your local record shop. Stream the album if you cannot find it but I urge people to seek out the album on vinyl if they can. With every passing anniversary, Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space seems to get stronger and more fascinating. In this feature to mark the album’s twentieth anniversary, Stereogum were right on the money:
“Ladies And Gentlemen doesn’t keep a single mood throughout. Its snarl-stomping blues-rock numbers like “Come Together” and “Electricity” had as much coked-up swagger as anything Pierce’s Britpop peers were doing, and they also had screaming walls of guitar and wailing gospel choirs blowing them out into something bigger. Its gooily blaring instrumental interludes are as far-out as anything Pierce had done with Spacemen 3, his old band. And it ends with “Cop Shoot Cop,” a 17-minute skronk-blues epic about the numbing repetition of smack addiction that never becomes numbing repetition itself. (As someone with very little patience for long songs, I can’t remember ever skipping “Cop Shoot Cop,” even though it came at the end of the album. Even in his staring-into-the-void moments, Pierce was enough of a songwriter to keep things interesting).
Still, the bottomless despair comes across. Pierce was putting all these oceans of gorgeosity behind sad-sack sentiments so eloquent but unspecific that they could’ve been about Radley or heroin or both or neither. And even with all that vagueness, they’re still heartfelt enough to kick you in the gut: “I just don’t know what to do on my own / All of my thoughts are of you,” “I don’t even miss you, but that’s cuz I’m fucked up / I’m sure when it wears off, then I will be hurting,” “Sometimes have my breakfast right off of a mirror / And sometimes I have it right out of a bottle, come on.” Lyrically, my favorite song on the album might be “I Think I’m In Love,” a devastating one-two punch of bravado and self-doubt, with the latter always shadowing the former: “I think you’re my dream girl / Probably just dreaming / I think I’m the best, babe / Probably like all the rest.”
Ladies And Gentlemen is a deeply personal album, a transmission from an auteurist mind, and that’s probably why its revved-up rockers and its head-blown instrumentals mesh so beautifully with its twinkly lullabies. (Back when lovelorn dipshits like me made mixtapes for crushes, it was almost impossible to pick a Ladies And Gentlemen song for a mixtape. Almost any of them other than “Cop Shoot Cop” would’ve worked, but the whole thing demanded to be heard as a single piece.) And it’s a sad reality of the present-day music industry that labels can’t write blank checks to genius auteurs anymore. Most of them wouldn’t know what to do with the money anyway. The era that gave us Ladies And Gentlemen is lost, and it’s not ever coming back. That’s too bad. But at least we still have the album, which still sounds like some kind of miracle”.
I am playing the album now and it is simply beguiling! If you have not discovered Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space then do so now. It sounded sensational in 1997 but, somehow, the album takes on a new life in 2019. Maybe it is the album we need right now but, at thirty-six, I am more moved by the album now than I was aged fourteen when it was released. I am going to spend some more time with it and fall in love with an iconic album that is…
OUT of this world.