Everything Was Beautiful by Spiritualized

Release date: April 22, 2022
Label: Fat Possum

One of my biggest inspirations as an aspiring musician, was undoubtedly the music of Spiritualized. In particular, I bought heavily into the whole Spaceman vibe and attitude of main man Jason Pierce. Minus any tendencies for extraneous medication, I might add. I’ve seen the band on many occasions over the years and marvelled at how the band, in various formations, always turn a gig into a religious experience. The time I saw the band play in Lisburn with Jason mere feet away from me, was as close as I’ve ever got to a musical idol. So when Jason spoke about ending studio recordings with last album And Nothing Hurt, that news actually did hurt me. But thankfully, and from out of nowhere essentially, here is studio album number nine, Everything Was Beautiful, originally intended to be released in February, delayed for vinyl pressing issues.

Jason Pierce plays 16 different instruments on this album, recorded over 11 different studios as well as his home. The record was also created with the help of more than 30 musicians and singers, including daughter Poppy, plus long-time collaborator John Coxon, string and brass sections and finger bells and chimes courtesy of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. Several thousand lateral flow tests later and this lovingly created recording can be heard by everyone.

The aforementioned And Nothing Hurt ended with the sound of morse code beeps from outer space and so opener ‘Always Together With You’ starts. The little outer wordly beeps continue to permeate the beautiful layered guitars and strings that are the trademark sound of GREAT Spiritualized. The euphoric rush of that chorus, when it first lands raises the hairs on my neck. It’s so joyous after the brooding build-up and the stupendous wall of sound that ensues is glorious. Whilst it might not be the nicest comparison after the heinous acts he committed, there’s a huge dollop of Spector in what Jason Pierce does. The drums are thunderous, the backing vocals heavenly, and the sublime percussive elements that are too many to mention add a real bliss to the mix. What a glorious return for Spiritualized, easily one of their best songs in my opinion. The depth of layers can be a tad overwhelming but just lay back in the sun, let it wash over you.

Built around a steady blues riff that has been done before, probably by this band themselves, ‘Best Thing You Never Had’ is one of those driving rockers that is the yin to the yang of the dreamy ballads, but no less trippy in terms of locking into a droning groove and not letting up. Piling on the brass and the feedback squeals, there’s once again a kaleidoscope of sounds swirling and spinning you into a heady state of abandon. You’ll forgive the plagiaristic element of something so familiar as it’s the attention to detail that is the winner here. The sassy brass solos chuck some freeform jazz into the mix and the toes will be tapping as this is a straight up no nonsense New Orleans party banger.

 

With a shortened selection of songs I guess it is inevitable that track three might be a ballad after that raucous start. So we have ‘Let It Bleed’, which might be straight out of the Spiritualized song name generator, but who cares? The song has a wonderful sound and melody, Jason sounding tender and soulful. There’s a faint hint of that electric mainline drone with the strings that undertow the song and the chorus erupts when it has to with stunning effect. Then the glorious final refrain sweeps in with Jason oozing out “lay it down, lay it down and let it bleed” as the band pick up and provide a gorgeous jazzy overlay of guitars and brass.

There’s a nod to Gram Parsons on the countrified ballad of ‘Crazy’ which is all swooning pedal steel and warm piano at the outset, before rolling into a big old singalong. It’s not particularly anything new in terms of sound, it’s just a lovely wee song to enjoy. Fans of the band will be familiar with the title of ‘Mainline’, which alludes to my favourite album Pure Phase. The song unleashes something approaching the wondrous drone sound that permeated that album. At first you think it’s going to be an instrumental as the choirs get to do some gospel turns. Then Jason turns to the mic to sing enquiring “if you wanted to go to the city tonight?”. The little clicks of percussion wouldn’t be there if I was mixing the album, as they seem out of place but otherwise, it’s a slab of brilliant drone rock with added flourishes that only Jason can create. Just when you think there’s enough going on, he throws in some more layers and then it all comes to an inexplicable halt.

My second favourite song on the album is the splendid booming ‘The A Song (Laid In Your Arms)’. I’m not a beer drinker or a party goer but I can just see interlocked bodies swinging jugs of beer about to the lurching groove. Alternatively it might be a few heads bobbing up and down with eyes shut tight. That would be more my thing. Anyway, this song is a blast, all thrashing guitars and a repeating brass motif that is sublime and ridiculously euphoric. Midway through there’s one of those noisy riotous splurges of feedback and chaos that Jason likes to have in his sets. This is the sound of a man enjoying making music again after some of the morose recordings of latter day Spiritualized when life seemed to catch up with him.

After the fuzzy rocker before it, it’s a curious end to the album to find the downbeat ‘I’m Coming Home’ and after what I said about Jason seeming to be loving music again this song feels a little tired. Built around a bumpy loop of a bassline, the drums drop in seemingly out of kilter with the rest of the instruments, creating a head spinning groove. As the song slithers along various instrumentation drops into the mix but the overall atmospheric never rises much above the surface. That is, until the end when the backing singers join in and the band crank it up. If I’m totally honest, it’s not the end to the album I hoped for. The overriding theme of the album has been fairly upbeat yet here we are in the doldrums again. But then, for some artists, sad songs bring them joy.

When I first prepared myself to listen to Everything Was Beautiful, the momentum of hearing new Spiritualized music I had resigned myself to never hear, made me declare this a real return to form. That initial rush of expectation and newly rekindled love forming that proclamation. Everything Was Beautiful is not Pure Phase or Ladies And Gentlemen…, but thankfully it’s not Songs In A & E either. It’s Jason Pierce making vibrant music again, when it seemed he had decided not to make any, and I for one am pretty ecstatic about that. Everything was beautiful and with this Spiritualized album, for 44 minutes, everything still is…

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