Spiritualized’s Magnum Opus ‘Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space’ Turns 20 (2024)

It’s one of the most memorable cinematic moments of the aughts: Tom Cruise’s David Aames, his body cryogenically frozen but his brain active and suspended in a labyrinthine lucid dream, is riding an elevator up and up to the top of a pearl-colored skyscraper.

He steps out onto the roof and stands awestruck beneath the surreal, impressionistic sky above. It’s beautiful, like a Monet painting. This is one of the final scenes of director Cameron Crowe’s celebrated 2001 movieVanilla Sky, and Cruise’s David is questioning his life, his decisions and their consequences and, most importantly, his loves and loves lost.

Clips of his previous life pass by — his struggle with drugs after a devastating car crash; his childhood and his family; and his most important love of all, Penelope Cruz’s Sofia Serrano.

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“It was she who somehow knew you best,” says anarrator. “And like you, David, she never forgot that one night where true love seemed possible.” Aames is a man lost in his own head, replacing one source of dopamine release with another. What he really wants is love, the ultimate escapist drug.

Over this scene plays “Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space,” the title track and opener from space-rock band Spiritualized’s third album. “All I want in life is a little love to take the pain away,” the band’s frontman Jason Pierce, aka J Spaceman, sings over a melody borrowed from Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” These emotions need no interpretation.

For the uninitiated, there’s no better introduction to the cultish British band. The film’s closing scene is poignant, surreal, chaotic, devastating and heartbreakingly beautiful. Just likeLadies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space, which turns 20 years old today.

In the summer of 1995, when Spiritualized hit the studio in Bath, England to begin recording their third album, Pierce was a shattered man, too. Kate Radley, his longtime girlfriend and the keyboardist in Spiritualized, had just abruptly ended their romance — and rushed off to marry The Verve’s jowly frontman, Richard Ashcroft, just four days before Spiritualized were to open for his band in England.

But this Fleetwood Mac-ian tale of love and heartbreak ultimately produced Spiritualized’s best release to date — and one of the defining albums of the 1990s.

Like Radiohead’sOK Computer, Spiritualized colored outside the prescribed lines of the Brit-pop sound. But where Radiohead channeled anxiety of future technologies into sweeping guitar-pop masterpieces, Pierce — the only songwriter and constant member of Spiritualized — spoke straight from his bleeding heart, while elevating his psychedelic sound with the grandeur of a church gospel choir director on LSD, or whatever drugs you got.


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Radley stuck around to play keys onLadies and Gentlemen— can you imagine reliving that nightmare every single day? — and the album famously opens with her flat voice on the other end of a phone call: “Ladies and gentlemen, we are floating in space.” From there, the emotional rollercoaster ride begins as Pierce’s lullabying enters — “All I want in life is a little love to take the pain away,” he repeats over and over, as another track finds him reciting the lyrics to Elvis’ classic love ballad: “Wise men say / Only fools rush in / But I can’t help falling in love with you.”

The London Community Gospel Choirguests throughout the album, bringing the spirit higher and higher. Then that guitar riff ignites like a cathedral on fire, the flames climbing the stained glass windows toward the heavens.

While the album will be remembered for its title track and opener, the LP’s 11 other tracks provide a look inside Pierce’s rattled mental state and struggle for salvation and bliss, however chaotic or beautiful or destructive it may have been. As the co-founder of the druggy rock outfit Spacemen 3, Pierce had a reputation for gobbling up any drug on the menu. But post-breakup, he was descending into a heroin and alcohol-fueled netherworld. And while Pierce has distanced himself from the storyline, claiming some songs were written before his split with Radley, his lyrics speak volumes: “Just me, my spike in my arm and my spoon / Feel the warmth of the sun in the room / But I don’t care about you / And I’ve got nothing,” he sings on “I Think I’m in Love.”

On “Home of the Brave,“ guitar feedback, keys, horns and flutes swell to a breaking point: “I don’t even miss you, but that’s ’cause I’m f*cked up,” he mumble-sings, like he’s almost too exhausted to get it all out. Radley’s backing vocal coos in the background, like she’s haunting his new existence.

Then on “Broken Heart,” one the LP’s most gorgeous tunes, layers of melodies and a weeping section from the Balanescu Quartet nearly drown out Pierce, who here sounds tired but dedicated to a mission. “Though I have a broken heart / I’m too busy to be heartbroken / There’s a lot of things that need to be done,” he sings. “Though I have a broken dream / I’m too busy to be dreaming of you / There’s a lot of things that I gotta do.”


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Like in the aftermath of many painful events, Pierce’s mood swings wildly: “I just don’t know what to do on my own / All of my thoughts are with you,” Pierce whispers. Then he unleashes the sonic anger, and the brass section leads a battle of sound between pianos, guitars and a screeching harmonica. “Don’t know how to sleep on my own / ‘Cause all of my dreams are of you.”

On the next track, the not-to-subtle “Stay With Me,” he’s pleading for better times over droning melodies and clacking drums: “Stay with me,” he repeats into the ether. “Hold me all of the time.”

But then on the gospel tune “Cool Waves” he’s in a more optimistic mood, singing, “Don’t let the world lay heavy on your soul.” It’s a moment of levity, a break for an emotionally (and chemically) strained young man.

His emotions bounce again for the closer “Cop Shoot Cop…,” featuring a guest appearance from Dr. John on keys. It’s a spacey, back alley blues number with looping piano and a mesmerizing rhythmic pattern. Here he’s lamenting his own condition: “There’s a hole in my arm where all the money goes,” Pierce sings. “Jesus Christ died for nothing I suppose.”

During the recording ofLadies and Gentlemen, Pierce is a spiraling-out-of-control junkie in pursuit of a narcotic escapism to replace the love he lost — an ex that continues to look him in the eye every day in the recording studio.

We all have our demons and our often-destructive ways of dealing with them. But in the summer of 1995,Pierce’s chaotic exorcism just sounded a lot more heavenly than anyone else’s.

Spiritualized’s Magnum Opus ‘Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space’ Turns 20 (2024)
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