"Where I stand is only 3 miles from space...."
For the past several months, I've been reading the biography of Spacemen 3. I always like to keep one music related book going for spare moment reading, and this was definitely a good one. As I neared the end, I began to listen to all of my Spaceman 3 and Spiritualized records in preparation for writing this Roundup, and listening to both bands almost exclusively this entire week. Like most people of my generation, my first introduction was to Spiritualized and only later discovered the band from which is it was born. Both bands belong to a significant cornerstone of my musical taste and are very important in shaping my aesthetic, so it only seemed fitting to give them the proper treatment. Below is the book review followed by album reviews. Enjoy.
Spacemen 3 & The Birth of Spiritualized by Erik Morse
(Omnibus Press, 2005)
The benefit of a band whose recording career lasted only four short years is that any biography written about them can spend a fair amount of time examining the details at length. This book does just that, starting with the formation of the band when its two primary contributors were just teenagers in Rugby, brought together by a shared curiosity in drugs and 60's psychedelic garage rock.
The book presents the pairing of Pete "Sonic Boom" Kember and Jason "J. Spaceman" Pierce as one destined for greatness and doomed for disintegration. Their early years are typical of most fringe bands, struggling to get gigs, to get label distribution, find an audience, and ultimately survive thanks to the dole. Eventually, after years of hard work, Spacemen 3 achieved those things and over the course of three short years, rose from obscurity to become the hottest indie band around. But as is so often the case, right when they were on the verge of super stardom, behind the scenes everything was falling apart.
This books is the culmination of extensive interviews and research, piecing together the torn fabric of these pioneering songwriters. However, it becomes increasingly obvious as one reads that Jason Pierce made himself significantly less available than Sonic. Rather than try to fill in the missing links, the author does a good job of focusing the book on Sonic and his controlling nature that contributed to the breakup of the band. Oddly, for the one who was open about everything, he seems to get afforded much of the blame while Jason strolls off the pages and into Spiritualized, a band whose success would soon eclipse Spaceman 3. A very fascinating read, not just for fans, but for anyone interested in the struggle of trying to create something new in a climate where industry consistantly wants the same, and eventually succeeding, because for all the turmoil and lost potential, it is important to remember that in many ways the Spaceman 3 story is one of victory, not failure.
Spacemen 3 - Sound of Confusion: The band's 1986 debut is a rumble of psychedelic garage space rock, with gritty transcending covers of the 13th Floor Elevators "Rollercoaster" and The Stooges "Little Doll," along with original gems like "O.D. Catastrophe." Still powerful and raw 25 years after its release.
Spacemen 3 - The Perfect Prescription: Released a year after their debut, this album really sees the band expanding and incorperating the soulful side on songs like "Walking with Jesus," and "Come Down Easy," that would later characterize the work of Spiritualized.
Spacemen 3 - Playing with Fire: The band's breakthrough album released in 1989 is really their crowning achievement. The strengths of both songwriters blend seamlessly to create a masterpiece of audio satisfaction. Sonic's psychedelic drone tracks are among his finest, and Jason's soul blues odes are hauntingly beautiful.
Spiritualized - Lazer Guided Melodies: Recorded shortly after the demise of Spacemen 3, this album, despite its precise name, is a bit rambling. Consisting of four 10+ minute tracks divided into several parts, it never truly finds itself. There are moments of purity and brilliance, but overall, my least favorite album of the bunch.
Spiritualized - Fucked Up Inside: A live album released to keep interest in the band while they recorded their second album, this recording showcases that both Spaceman 3 and Spiritualized, while admittedly obsessed with the technical aspects of music, were essentially live bands at their heart. It certainly hints at the magic that was to come.
Spiritualized - Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space: My first introduction to either band came with this 1997 masterpiece. It is easily a watershed moment in my music listening development and remains one of my favorite albums of all time. From the blistering brilliance of "Electricity" to the peacefulness of "Cool Waves" this is one of the rare perfect albums.
Spiritualized - Songs in A&E: After taking five years off, this album finally arrived in 2008. This is a return to the somber mood of Let It Come Down, and takes an even darker turn. Absolutely beautiful moments on this album, "The Waves Crash In" for example, but the concept of being in an emergency room feels slightly disjointed. Though I thoroughly enjoy this album, I feel it doesn't quite come together as a whole the way other Spiritualized albums do.
Spiritualized - Sweet Heart Sweet Light: In 2012, a return after four years, this album captures the desperation that is familiar with all of Spiritualized work. It simply soars with heartache, but with the upbeat summer melodies that make it a joy to listen to over and over. A triumphant return! Hopefully we won't have to wait another four years...but if that's what it takes, I'm willing to be patient.