How Spiritualized made the most dazzling album of the decade (2024)

How Spiritualized made the most dazzling album of the decade (1)

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The 1990s threw up some truly awe-inspiring music as we drew to the close of a millennium and what had been one of the most tumultuous and progressive centuries in human history. With the expansion of technological capability, globalisation, and an ever-thriving capitalist machine, music became increasingly accessible to the masses after World War II. By the 1960s, music was at the forefront of a cultural revolution that echoed through the remainder of the 20th century. Three years shy of the millennium, Spiritualized released their masterpiece, Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space.

By the 1990s, we had a diverse, endlessly intriguing, and often incestuous mix of genres and subgenres with sound bent out of shape, rearranged, flipped upside down, given a good kicking and put back together. We had rappers, post-punkers, jangle-poppers, shoegazers, pop-punkers, grungers, nu-metal-heads, trance-dancers and a whole galaxy of other sounds and sects to get involved with.

Of all the music knocking about in the ’90s, the irritatingly inadequate and ambiguous term, “post-rock” held some of the most creatively jaw-dropping music. While the ’90s were home to albums like Nirvana’s Nevermind and Portishead’s Dummy, the post-rock albums have a feeling of exploration that I simply can’t get enough of.

Spiritualized’s 1997 classic, which I will abbreviate as LGWFIS from now on, is rivalled by only one other album in the post-rock arena of the 1990s. This is, of course, Radiohead’s seminal third album of the same year, OK Computer. I also feel inclined to give an honourable mention to Talk Talk’s Laughing Stock (1991) and Julian Cope’s Peggy Suicide (1991) – these two post-rock albums are also unbridled masterpieces and hold a special place in my collection.

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I wouldn’t hazard picking a favourite between LGWFIS and OK Computer because tomorrow it would change. Both tick all the right boxes for diversity, originality and conceptual genius. That said, today marks the 25th anniversary of LGWFIS, so I’ll put OK Computer to one side for now.

So what makes LGWFIS so special? I would say the critical ingredient is the album’s diversity. For an album to stand so poignant at the end of such a creatively expansive century, it should draw influences from a wide variety of musical traditions. Spiritualized did just that under Jason Pierce’s watchful eye.

One moment you’ll be hearing the emotive, gospel-infused Elvis Presley echo in the title track; next, you’ll be thrown into the full intensity of rock-outs like ‘Electricity’ and ‘No God Only Religion’. Elsewhere, you could be found weeping to the sentimental ‘Broken Heart’ with its enveloping classical string arrangements or getting lost in the rapturous 17-minute epic, ‘Cop Shoot Cop’.

The thread running through the otherworldly music is a sense of detachment from the world as Pierce guides us through a whole range of emotions. So if you’re new to the record, prepare to be emotionally exhausted by the end.

The album visits feelings of melancholy and loneliness, reflecting Pierce’s mindset at the time of recording. This is a very naked emotion expressed throughout the album, especially in tracks such as: ‘All of My Thoughts’, ‘Stay with Me’ and ‘Broken Heart’.

Indeed Peirce had suffered a broken heart in the run-up to the album upon hearing the news that his girlfriend at the time – and keyboard player for the band – Kate Radley, had not only had an affair with Richard Ashcroft of The Verve but secretly married him in 1995 behind his back. Pierce has since asserted that the songs were mostly written before the break-up. Though, it is safe to derive that the songs might have been mouthing prophetic suspicion on a subconscious level.

The title for the record was taken from a line in Jostein Gaarder’s 1991 philosophical fiction novel, Sophie’s World, which reads: “Only philosophers embark on this perilous expedition to the outermost reaches of language and existence. Some of them fall off, but others cling on desperately and yell at the people nestling deep in the snug softness, stuffing themselves with delicious food and drink. ‘Ladies and Gentlemen,’ they yell, ‘we are floating in space!’ But none of the people down there care.” This context of philosophers feeling perhaps a tad lonely in their pursuit of knowledge is reflected in the loneliness and otherworldliness Pierce echoes throughout the album.

As if the music wasn’t already enough to top the scoreboard of the ’90s, Spiritualized matched the prowess of the sound with a clever and striking visual element. The concept for the album was that its music could offer a cure to emotional pain. Taking this literally, the navy and white cover for the album posits the album as a box of pills, with the caption at the bottom of the sleeve stating “1 tablet 70 min”, alluding to the notion that the LP itself is a tablet – quite a mouthful but worth every bite. With the original time running just over 70 minutes, Pierce purportedly decided to cut the recordings to hit the more aesthetically pleasing dosage of 70 minutes.

The premise came when the commissioned artist, Mark Farrow, heard Peirce say, “music is medicine for the soul” when they first met to discuss the aesthetic direction for the album. With this, Farrow set about designing the sleeve as a medical product.

After the ups and downs of the 20th century, there were few albums so successful in wrapping up the past few decades of musical evolution and crossbreeding. The visually and audibly striking LP seemed to house the mixed emotions experienced through the various ups and downs of the century while offering a shoulder to cry on – or a pill to swallow – for those in need.

LGWFIS sounds just as fresh now as it did 25 years ago. This, in part, is due to the progressive sound of the music, but it also highlights the closing years of a blooming period in sonic exploration. It’s unclear whether the subsequent wind-down was due to a saturation of the genre field by the early 2000s or whether we just enjoy an endless cycle of pastiche in contemporary music with no real urge to push boundaries. My hope is that a contemporary artist can one day rival the innovative originality of albums like LGWFIS or OK Computer, but until then, I’m just thankful such records exist.

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How Spiritualized made the most dazzling album of the decade (2024)
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