Spiritualized - Lazer Guided Melodies

The first time I saw Spiritualized live, I was maybe 21, and I was absolutely determined that I would not experience them sober. They were playing in Rochester, about a 90-minute drive from where I was going to college in Syracuse, and I brought a gallon jug of Carlo Rossi merlot — absolutely disgusting shit — in the car with me. I spent the entire ride just obliterating myself. My friends Andy and Ashlea, who were driving, would have to tell me to put the thing on the floor when we pulled up to toll booths. By the time we got to the show, I was just gone. I remember Jason Pierce standing off to the side of the stage, remaining in profile the whole time, never once looking at the crowd. And I remember loving it. I remember nothing else. In their two decades of existence, Spiritualized have gone from making music about mind-obliteration to addiction to recovery to near-death experiences to hard-earned okayness, and from endorphin-rush early love to heartbreak to recovery to middle-aged domestic bliss — all without much altering their sound. But I think I was right to experience them while utterly fucked up that first time. You can break down their music into component parts, into influences and ideas and motivations, but I don’t know why you would. It’s more about the physical feelings of need and contentment, and how those things can bleed into each other — sensations that somehow become even more real and tangible and intuitive when you can barely stand up.

Lazer Guided Melodies, Spiritualized’s first album, turns 20 today. When the CD first came out, its 12 songs were separated into just four tracks, all around 15 minutes long, which was a fucking horrible pain in the ass if you were trying to isolate one so that you could put it on a mixtape or whatever. But that idea — that the album wasn’t 12 songs, that it was really four suites of music, or that it was really really just one thing that you should hear at once — certainly works with the music, with the endlessly patient ebb-and-flow of their own particular dreampop-gospel thing. Jason Pierce, when he made it, had just parted ways with Spacemen 3, and Spiritualized’s music certainly brought plenty of the feelings over from his old band. You’d expect it to be something of a transitional affair, like how those early New Order albums have gradually decreasing levels of that old Joy Division sparse bleakness. There isn’t. It’s all there, fully formed: The slow cresting guitar chimes, the deadpan-mumble vocals, the sounds that could be keyboard or guitar or something else and you can’t tell and you don’t care but Jesus it sounds amazing.

Pierce made the album when he was just falling in love with Kate Radley, the band’s keyboardist, and it must’ve been weird for her to be playing the songs that are clearly about her. It must’ve been weirder still when they made Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space five years later, and she was still playing on the songs, but now they were about how point-of-death depressed he was about breaking up with her. Her voice is all over the album, floating in harmony just behind Pierce’s on a few songs, slowly counting to 200 while deep in the mix on the stunning album closer “200 Bars.” But even with her presence there, you can that tell it’s pretty much a one-man show, a band all about one guy’s idea of how music should sound. Pierce has pushed his sound in all kinds of directions in the years since Lazer Guided Melodies, but he’s always kept steadfast to that idea of how music should sound. And so Lazer Guided Melodies itself is an absolutely wonderful album, one worth repeat plays and celebration. But it’s also earned its place in history because it was the beginning of a long, glorious project, one that’s still going strong now. Pierce released another great album just last month. He’s a living treasure. And as great and important as Spacemen 3 clearly were, Lazer Guided Melodies is the moment it all snapped into hazy focus.

The last time I saw Spiritualized, it was 2008, and they were playing at the Pitchfork Music Festival right around sunset. I probably wasn’t stone-cold sober, but I definitely wasn’t falling down drunk, the way I’d been before. My wife and I had spent the morning walking a few miles through downtown Chicago, trying to find the movie theater we’d done a bad job Google Mapping so that we could see a matinee of The Dark Knight. Chicago was beautiful that day, and we talked about how we could see ourselves living there, leaving New York finally, moving someplace where people just radiated a weird contentment. That dizzily sunny feeling lingered all day, and it meant I was pretty much mush by the time Spiritualized played — just as close, then, to that feeling of need and contentment as I’d been when I first saw them, but for totally different reasons. Pierce faced the crowd that time, but they were still very much the same band, playing very much the same kinds of songs, and I was moved in a way I can’t really describe. A few weeks after that show, my wife was pregnant with our daughter. A few months after it, we packed up all our shit and moved to Chicago to start a family. I’m not going to say Spiritualized had anything to do with that. But I am going to say that they made perfect sense at both of these moments. And they still make perfect sense.

So yeah, Lazer Guided Melodies. Great record. Here are some songs.

Comments (14)
  1. ive said a couple times recently how i was terribly late to the Spiritualized catalogue, but god is it awesome. first time i listen to this record was a couple months ago… wish i have had as much time with it as everyone else

    unreal video w/ 2001 Space Odyssey Tom, good call

  2. yeeeaaaah tom, top of the line rhine

  3. britpop conundrum of the 90s had to be whether Kate Radley would go with Pierce or Ashcroft.

  4. Whoa! Really? Today my Spiritualized radio show episode aired and I had no idea it was the anniversary. That’s too cool.

    I was late to being a fan of Spiritualized. It was the 2008 Coachella lineup that I saw the band name and thought it was unusual. After hearing Ladies & Gentlemen… and being floored by the weight of the lyrics, I became a Spiritualized Evangelist. I ran to my friends with a copy and told them to buckle up. That was a great year. That was my introduction to Pure Phase, Lazer Guided Melodies and of course Spacemen 3.

    I connected with the Jason’s lyrics instantly. Having had a few troubled relationships, I felt like I had found someone that knew exactly how I felt. Needless to say, his albums landed in that rare category of music that has the power to make me weep.

    When Spiritualized announced the Ladies & Gentlemen… performances in London, I remember a certain line of the Pitchfork news post that Tom wrote sticking out:

    “This is the sort of thing that makes me wish I could afford plane tickets.”

    I re-read the line and was like, “Hey, my mom’s a flight attendant! I have no excuse!”

    I made the pilgrimage. Even though there wasn’t a single soul back home that could wrap their brain around why I was flying all the way to London just to see a band. They’d ask, “Who are you seeing?” Me: “Spiritualized” Them: “Huh?”

    That was late 2009 and I had my connection with them a year prior, so I knew. The album being so fresh on my heart I knew that seeing it live in its entirety would completely level me. Oh, it did. I’ve never felt like my eye sockets were water hoses ever since.

    The main reason I went is because I didn’t know if I’d ever get to see them live again. Thankfully that wasn’t true, as I saw Spiritualized play last week for over 2 hours. Sure, there were 30 less people on stage than in London, but the music was still there. This time I wasn’t by myself and got to see it with 3 friends, there first times all around. One of my friends had never even heard a Spiritualized album, but two songs in he said in my ear that this was going to be great.

    He didn’t play anything from Lazer Guided Melodies, unfortunately, as hearing “Shine A Light” would leave me paralyzed I’m sure. I know there is a video of them performing it at the Pitchfork festival, and that song is just too much. Even when it’s kinda-sorta-synched to 2001, it still leaves a crater sized impact.

    I pray that Jason’s health stays on the positive. Even though he just put out one of his best records to date, the thought of this world without Spiritualized’s life-changing live shows is a world I don’t want to imagine. God Bless you Jason, we feel your heartache.

    tl;dr Everybody go listen to Spiritualized.

    • Holy shit, that’s an awesome story! That plane tickets line was so tossed-off, but I’m glad it sparked something!

    • Great Story and I feel the same way about this album, in fact I started to tear up a bit reading the write-up. I’m not very eloquent when it comes to writing or explaining my thoughts and there are a few times I have given this album to people (read: girlfriends) and told them that it says many thing (especially about love) that I want to say but don’t know how. (Also I was at the spiritualized show last week too, we keep missing each other!)

  5. I find it interesting that albums like this aren’t as prized in the US as much as The Aeroplane Over the Sea (same time period), probably it’s niche brit music and not done by an american with a weird voice i spose. -1 -1 -1 !!!! :)

  6. Great article. I saw them first on the Rollercoaster tour with Curve & Jesus & Mary Chain. They were promoting “Lazer Guided Melodies”. I can’t say they were the best band that night(many people did), but they definitely got my attention.
    It wasn’t until the “Pure Phase” tour when I saw them open for Siouxsie and the Banshees that I became a huge fan. They had gotten even better live and personally I think that is their best album. It definitely set up “Ladies & Gentlemen…” to be moderately successful in the States and a monster in the UK.
    I think when Kate Radley left him(very publicly) that it had a huge impact on the music and the man. I think Jason handled it as elegantly as anyone possibly could. And he put out some incredible music along the way.
    I’ve seen them 7 times over the years, including just a couple of weeks ago. Pierce seemed to be way beyond heartbreak and really into turning a new generation on to his music.

  7. Wait, Tom lives in Chicago? Hope to see you around soon, dude!

  8. So where’s the rip-off remastered box set with out-takes, live versions, instrumentals and a cappella etc?

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