China: 20 Years of Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space

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Spiritualized – Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space

Released June 16th, 1997 on Dedicated Records

RYM: #415

BestEverAlbums: #215

Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space is likely the broadest shoegazer rock ever got; put another way, it’s the spaciest Britpop ever got.  Born out of the wreckage of Spacemen 3, J. Spaceman (Jason Pierce) created Spiritualized originally to explore how good designer drugs made him feel.  Ladies And Gentlemen is the peak of that exploration; the record may be a lot of things (a confessional, a recounting of lost love, an exploration of American gospel music, the height of space rock in the 1990s) but at it’s root it is an account of Pierce’s epiphany that he could only find redemption in using drugs.  It’s not really much of a wonder, then, that the album cover was made to look like the cover of a pharmaceutical pamphlet; a special edition was created that turned it into a box of legitimate drugs, complete with dosage instructions and a blister package that contained the CD.  Pierce was not being subtle or even caring to hide his love of the pharmacy; it could very well be the most pro-drug record of the 1990s, Snoop Dogg aside.

Musically it’s very loosely structured.  These are songs with tenuous connections to the ground, and it’s only the stitching mechanism of Pierce’s voice that keeps them from casting off into outer space.  The synthesizers, strings, and horns in the background of most of the songs blow everything wide open, reaching for both ends of the sonic spectrum at once; the clear, sustained guitar lines that shoot through this are frisson moments for those caught in the psychedelic blowout.  There are moments of pure blissed-out rock ‘n’ roll (“Electricity” and “Come Together”), serious old school grooves (“I Think I’m In Love”), and the interpolation of some old Elvis slow-gospel magic (the opener/title track).

The pain and the confessional seeking of solace in drugs was very real for Jason Pierce.  “There’s a hole in my arm where all my money goes,” he opened the sprawling closer “Cop Shoot Cop” with, and it’s as gorgeously harrowing an account of descent into addiction as you’re ever likely to find.  The album’s opening line (which doubles as the title) was spoken by Spiritualized keyboardist Kate Radley, whose romantic relationship with Pierce cratered four days before the release of the record; Pierce had been a rebound from her husband, Richard Ashcroft of The Verve, to whom she returned shortly before leaving Spiritualized for good in 1997.  Pierce claims all of the songs were written before their breakup but the visceral jettison of the normal world for the spaced-out world of coping seems very much the product of capturing the free fall of disintegration as it’s happening.  Really, in the end, that’s the integral takeaway of the record:  it’s basically I Do Heroin: The Album.  It’s a love letter, and it’s to an altered state of being rather than a relationship, but it serves as a fitting account of either.

 

Blur – The Magic Whip

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Blur – The Magic Whip

There are days I feel sort of sorry for Damon Albarn.  Yes, he’s had an astounding string of success, built upon being the driving force behind not only the premier British rock band of the 1990s, but also, with Gorillaz, the best cartoon hip hop group of what is an admittedly small grouping.  Still, his success in the American market began with a snarky joke and the image of his day-job band there is indelibly linked with it.  “Song 2”, from 1997’s self-titled album, is a parody, a song that takes the piss out of muscular American grunge rock.  It was also a massive hit, forever making Blur the “Woo Hoo Song” band in the minds of the Great Unwashed.  Despite the classic albums they’ve released, the crowds keep chanting for “Woo Hoo”.

Blur also marked an end-point for the band.  They would release two more albums, neither of which were quite as good as their 1993-1997 output.  13 would find them following the rest of the alternative rock movement into light electronica, and 2003’s Think Tank found them beholden to Albarn’s expanding musical horizons and his preoccupation with hip hop and Gorillaz.

The Magic Whip, though, sets the clock back in a rather satisfying way.  Blur stepped away from their heritage by embracing the lo-fi sounds of the American indie movement; The Magic Whip finds its way back to the days of Modern Life Is Rubbish, Parklife, and The Great Escape.  Part of this is the return of guitarist Graham Coxon, who left the band a week into the Think Tank sessions.  His presence adds a leavening effect to Albarn’s kaleidoscope of influences, which are also toned down appreciably.  The samples and synths used here are much more subtle than they were on the previous two albums, allowing the songs to breathe and the peculiar melodies – always the band’s strongest feature – to shine through.  Coxon’s guitar work plays off of these incorporated sounds beautifully; it’s an amazing thing to hear a burbling, grinding low-end synth, and then to hear Coxon’s familiar strum comes trundling out of it.  It’s those sort of moments that their best work was based off of, and The Magic Whip holds its own amongst those works.  While it feels a trifle long (a few too many mid-tempo exercises) and it’s not as coherent as, say, Parklife, it’s a welcome return from a band whose goodwill had very nearly run out.

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