A labour of lost love and reflections on inevitable demise, there’s no sign that Spiritualized's new album, And Nothing Hurt, was recorded digitally, cheaply, in the confines of dingy East London, and almost solely by musical tech-migrant, J. Spaceman.
Under Spaceman’s helmsmanship, a 26-year output’s seen Spiritualized use drug enjoyment and addiction, pneumonia, liver disease and resulting chemo, and perhaps now - inevitably - death as its multitude of muses.
And Spaceman’s always encased these themes in a cacophonously beautiful, and at times overwhelming, wall of bluesy-rock-feedback-guitar, heaps of brass and gospel choir. Only to them pare it down to a simple, tear-inducing, reedy vocal and Leslie organ.
And so, this, Spiritualized’s 7th studio album, are more variations on a theme; but a theme that has vitality, and slaps musical trends and the passing of time away with the back of its hand.
Opener, A Perfect Miracle starts with a melodic nod to What A Wonderful World.
All doey-eyed about love go the verses: “Take the birds and teach them the all words of every love song I know / and have them fly around and sing them to you”, before the chorus, albeit cushioned in lush strings and glockenspiel, crashes back to earth with the realisation that relationships don’t always run smooth.
First single I’m Your Man follows, and with accompanying video gives no clue as to the low-budget struggle Spaceman had recording this album. Adorned in a name-tagged astronaut suit, he walks through a desert at sunset, free from any constraints of using a bedroom and computer to capture such emotive, free-spirited sounds.
Indeed, the first 4 [of 9 tracks] tip their hats to a deliriously open road - some more so than others [3rd tune Here It Comes (The Road) Let’s Go more literally] and sound anything but a forced-upon, city-based recording.
Even when whimsical, Spaceman’s signature Bolero-esque build-ups reach delicious peaks, like the fuzzy guitar solo on Let’s Dance. This is kind of music to be played at life-well-lived, smile-through-the-tears funerals. This tracks also hints at a possible future direction with a swirling synth pad taking centre stage.
Then we hit On The Sunshine and The Morning After, and you can feel the wall of sound run at you, with Spaceman’s everyman vocal darting between pumping brass and steely guitar licks. There's even a kitchen sink full of wig-out woodwinds to make you head spin!
On both these standout tracks, we're back in the claustrophobic confines of austerity Britain with its cracks in mental health care provision and highs and lows of the National Health Service. A stark contrast to birds singing love songs.
Penultimate track, The Prize, is perhaps the standout. You could say it’s a musical theatre swansong, but Spaceman’s sometimes jarringly plain voice takes it to another place; somewhere real. As always, you can tell he’s experienced all this stuff, and that the hurt is real.
As the finger-clicking, slow-waltz finale of Sail On Through permeates your aural cavities, and then your dreams, there might be a slightly lingering tendency to wonder whether you’ve heard this Spiritualized song before - you both have and haven’t.
Isn't And Nothing Hurt is just immensely like nothing else out there? Wow.
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Released: 07 Sep 2018