It’s rare to find any sort of article about Jason Pierce, a.k.a. J Spaceman, that doesn’t mention drugs in some fashion. From his days in Spacemen 3, drugs not only made up the identity of the band (titles like The Perfect Prescription being one such example), but their unhinged psych-rock freakouts more than suggested that illicit substances, in some way, were part of the creative process. With Spiritualized, Pierce kept using both drugs and space as a central motif, which goes a long way in critical descriptions of them as being both ‘space rock’ and ‘druggy.’ One song later in the band’s career even found Pierce singing “the only time I’m drink and drug free is when my drinks and drugs are free.”
If you haven’t figured it out by now, though Pierce has had more than a few chemicals running through his body, he’s at least got a pretty good sense of humor about that sort of thing, which is especially apparent on third album Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space. The record sleeve is designed to look like prescription medication, with instructions, ingredients, warnings and side effects (and if symptoms persist, it recommends also taking Pure Phase and Lazer Guided Melodies).
To identify Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space as a drug album, though, is to sell it short. Certainly, it’s a psychedelic rock album, and psych-rock is usually inseparable from narcotic indulgence. But a lot of the time it can also be kind of goofy (see: “Incense and Peppermints”). Spiritualized may have been a band based on excess, but for all of its 70 minutes, Ladies and Gentlemen is incredibly focused, soulful and tight—not a single one of those minutes is wasted.
Described by one reviewer as Pierce’s ‘classic rock album,’ Ladies and Gentlemen is much more accessible and structured than Spiritualized albums past, and owes a much broader debt to the canon. And that includes Pachelbel’s “Canon,” the chord progression of which is used in the title track. The London Community Gospel Choir in particular is one aspect that makes this a much bigger, more forceful album in its arrangements. Backing anthems like “Cool Waves” and the impeccable rock single “Come Together,” the choir lends a soulful gospel aspect to the songs, with religion crossing paths with drug themes, as both come to symbolize one’s means of salvation and a way to kill the pain.
Guitar freakouts are still a major part of Spiritualized’s sound here, from single “Electricity,” to the contrasting highs and lows of “All of My Thoughts” and the furious and frightening instrumental “No God Only Religion.” Yet the albums’ most jaw-dropping points are somewhere in-between the serene and the chaotic, simmering somewhere around ‘unsettling.’ “I Think I’m In Love” is one such song, playing like a call-and-response id and superego conversation on hallucinations, with lines like “I think I’m on fire/ probably just smoking” mirroring the back and forth. Closer “Cop Shoot Cop” is another, a 20-minute masterpiece with Dr. John providing bluesy piano to underscore the trance-inducing junkie lament. Some may spend their lives chasing a high or trying to get to heaven, but one certainly need not go to such extremes: Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space is a long-lasting high of its own, and nobody’s ever been to rehab or reprogrammed for listening to too much beautiful music.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.