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  • Spiritualized Albums From Worst To Best
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A writer friend of mine recently gave me some advice: One of the hardest stories to sell is one about a consistently excellent band releasing another strong album. It’s not a comeback, it’s not a severe stylistic left turn, it’s just an artist continuing to refine their sound after many years in the game, and therefore there’s no narrative to be ascribed.

This has often felt to be the case with Spiritualized, a band that has plugged along for more than two decades now, never quite seeming to reach the point where they feel part of some zeitgeist or where they produce THE definitive album, but cranking out unwaveringly excellent material once every two to four years. Spiritualized has, at this point, reached “survivor” status. Coming out of the wreckage of Spacemen 3, the group was initially formed when Jason Pierce (aka J. Spaceman) had a falling out with that band’s other frontman, Peter Kember (aka Sonic Boom), and wound up stealing the rest of Spacemen 3 and continuing on rechristened. That was, more or less, an illusion, as Spiritualized has essentially always been Pierce’s project, as he regularly fires everyone and starts from scratch. With an ever-changing cast of players, Pierce has taken Spiritualized from an early-’90s trance-rock band loosely associated with shoegaze, dabbled in the Britpop craze that dominated the mid-’90s, and then remained as an indie mainstay of the ’00s even as his contemporaries faded or disintegrated.

All of this while never quite breaking out, really. Spiritualized plays large-ish clubs and theaters in America, and it’s unlikely anything will happen to change that at this point in the band’s career. Part of the reason is obvious — Spiritualized is weirder than you might remember given the relatively classicist-leaning nature of the last few albums. Pierce is prone to noisy outbursts, as interested in free jazz roars as filthy garage rock sludge, but has, at different points in his career, situated the fervor amongst trippy drones or introspective, more instrumentally or structurally conventional pop songs. Conventional, that is, in that they recall ’60s and ’70s balladry, not because they would have much pop clout these days.

Whether genre-wise or thematically, the description of Spiritualized appears to be all over the place, or at least comprised of polarities. Drugs, of course, have always been a perennial topic for Pierce, whether in Spacemen 3 or in Spiritualized. Somewhere during Spiritualized’s trajectory, he switched from writing about drugs as mechanisms towards a willed oblivion to fixating on addiction and its toll. Perhaps consequences became more important in relation to the other imagery Pierce mines frequently: religion. Again, he oscillates, occasionally seeming to dwell in and celebrate the sin, sometimes seeking redemption. The most interesting stuff occurs when Spiritualized swirls it all together, the transcendent states of drug euphoria or religious ecstasy indistinguishable from each other amongst synth drones that could be unnerving or warmly inviting depending on your perspective, the sickness of addiction inextricably linked to the near-death experiences and meditations on mortality that litter Spiritualized’s music as well as Pierce’s biography.

Somehow, Pierce has always managed to collapse all of this into a signature sound to the point that, indeed, there’s never been a severe left turn for Spiritualized stylistically. Ironically, the non-story of consistency might be what makes Spiritualized unique, that it’s Pierce’s singular vision that’s both setting and glue for the various strands that coalesce to form the Spiritualized sound. The reliable elements of Spiritualized have allowed for a catalogue that appears consistent, without a story, but is in fact able to surprise over and over, whether you hear a tiny, previously unknown detail in a six minute drone or whether you listen to “All Of My Thoughts” for the first time in years and are stunned alert when its reverie explodes into frenetic bursts of harmonica and brass. The following is a list of Spiritualized’s albums ranked from worst to best. If there are acolytes out there for Amazing Grace, they can argue its merits in the comments.

Start the Countdown here.

Comments (19)
  1. Raptor Jesus is not going to be happy about Lazer Guided Melodies being so low.

    I still need to check that out…

    • Definitely not happy, but not mad. More confused. But I actually read some of what was written and from what I can tell by lines like, “Coming out of the wreckage of Spacemen 3…” can be read a few ways.

      I love Spacemen 3, which probably explains why I love early Spiritualized so much, because it still has lingering whispers of the Spacemen 3 aesthetic. This also explains why my favorite songs on “Sweet Heart, Sweet Light” are also the longest one. Ryan & I both agree on how fantastic “Headin’ For The Top Now” is in the great canon of Spiritualized songs. But then the inclusion of “Songs in A&E” so close to the top of the list is a bit of a head scratcher.

      It seems like Ryan prefers the more song oriented Spiritualized tracks. I definitely prefer the aimless, drug oriented Spiritualized tracks, which is of course more in line with Spacemen 3. So no need to get too up in arms, it is the beauty of Spiritualized.

      Hard to argue with “Ladies & Gentlemen…” at #1 (Cop Shoot Cop… HELLO!) but my personal favorite has always been “Pure Phase”. Ryan mentions “Lay Back In The Sun” as one of the highlights, and it is, except it’s A HUGE FUCKING HIGHLIGHT that has etched itself into my brain as one of THE go-to summer songs for the rest of my life. Actually, that whole mid-section of “Born Never Asked” into “Electric Mainline” into “Lay Back In The Sun” is what I consider to be that album’s climax.

      I feel Spiritualized always worked best in suites. The one I just mentioned, the “Electricity”/”Born Never Asked”/”The Individual” suite on L&G and then basically all of LGM.

      But Lazer Guided Melodies has “Shine A Light” which is, as far as I’m concerned, the end all of Spiritualized tracks. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the song that guaranteed him a future for his new band Spiritualized from 1992 until forever. Watching him perform it on a Youtube stream from this year’s Coachella left me tear-eyed in my computer chair. Pretty impressive to be so detached from a live performance yet for it to hit square in my heart. That to me always best illustrated why I LOVE Spiritualized. Why I’d fly to London just to see them play. They’re so good. So good job on the list! Anything that turns people onto Spiritualized is good in my book.

      But my list would be…

      1. Pure Phase
      2. Ladies & Gentlemen
      3. Lazer Guided Melodies
      4. Sweet Heart Sweet Light
      5,6,7 the rest

      • I mentioned it below, but he was doing Shine A Light on the heels of You Lie You Cheat on the 2009 tour, which included their show at the Pitchfork Festival. I have a stream of that show that I downloaded if you want it. Email me at wseitz at gmail. At the time, it was pretty mind-blowing.

        • I was actually at that set but I didn’t really know the music at the time so I couldn’t fully appreciate it and barely even remember. Reading this post it didn’t even ocur to me that I had seen Spiritualized live until I read this comment.

        • I remember seeing that video that p4k put up after their festival then. It was the moment I realized how truly great that track is. I’m sending you an e-mail soon!

          Sort of ridiculous the only time I’ve seen that song live is through YouTube videos… but at the same time amazing that a recorded live performance can leave such a mark. I need to dig up my video of “Ladies & Gentlemen…” when he opened with it at the 2009 show where he played the whole album.

  2. I do think that overall Songs in A&E is underrated, but that being said it’s wayyyyyyy too high on this list.

  3. I feel bad for the albums I’d have at the bottom, but they’re only there because the rest of the albums are so good. My list:

    7. Amazing Grace
    6. Songs in A&E
    5. Let It Come Down
    4. Sweet Heart, Sweet Light
    3. Pure Phase
    2. Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space
    1. Laser Guided Melodies

    LGM is the one I go back to listen to more than any of the rest. The live version Shine A Light is much different from the album version, but is absolutely amazing, especially when they segue into it from the maelstrom at the end of You Lie, You Cheat. I wish I could put Let It Come Down higher, since that was what really got me into Spiritualized.

    I’d love to see Stereogum’s worst to first rankings of Super Furry Animals albums, btw.

    • Agreed. When I read “The hardest stories to tell…” and so on in the intro, I thought immediately of SFA. I was also thinking, last night, randomly, that Dark Days / Light Years is probably their worst…and that it’s a pretty good “worst” record to have made.

      Here’s my attempt (when I should really be working):

      8. Dark Days / Light Years
      7. Fuzzy Logic
      6. Hey Venus!
      5. Radiator
      4. Phantom Power
      3. Love Kraft
      2. Guerilla
      1. Rings Around the World

      That’s not easy. Totally under-appreciated band.

  4. Pure Phase is way too low, and A&E is way too high!

    proper ranking:

    1) Ladies and Gentlemen
    2) Pure Phase
    3) Let It Come Down
    4) Lazer Guided Melodies
    5) Sweet Heart Sweet Light
    6) Amazing Grace
    7) Songs in A&E

  5. I, too, was a bit perplexed by this list at first, as Laser Guided Melodies, Pure Phase, and Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space have long been considered by me to be the Holy Trinity of Spiritualized albums. After those three (and I agree L&G should be at the top), you can more or less swap the rankings of the remaining albums by the mood you’re in.

    But Ryan’s reasoning is so well-articulated, I can almost see how Pure Phase and Laser Guided Melodies arrived at their spots on his list just because of the mood he was in when he compiled the list. Another excellent installment of my favorite Stereogum feature. When will you be tackling Killing Joke?

  6. I have nothing snarky to add, I just really love this band…

  7. I’m totally with Raptor and a little ambivalent about this list. Its heart is in the right place but its rationale pretty wonky. I can’t agree that Laser Guided Melodies is a transitional or in some way unrealised album– to me it’s the absolute epitome of the fully formed debut and markedly different from Spacemen 3 (in sound if not in spirit). Have a listen to the brilliant compilation The Complete Works and songs there that predate LGM (Anyway That You Want Me), while great, still sound like a hangover from Spacemen 3.

    No real argument with Ladies and Gentlemen at number 1, but LGM is a thing of beauty, a classic record and my favourite of theirs by a long stretch– it’s the one that best captures both Pierce’s great songwriting AND the suite-led, mood-piece approach. And yes it has Shine a Light, I Want You, If I Were With Her Now…

    Fully agree that A&E is underrated, and brilliant obvs, but is a little front-loaded & uneven, and song-for-song just not as consistent as LGM or Let It Come Down.

    One day perhaps Stereogum could do a list of the best live acts. The Ladies & Gentlemen tour at the Royal Albert Hall, London in ’98 is still the greatest, most exhilarating gig I’ve ever seen.

  8. It’s pretty cool most of the people who commented disagree with this list. “Pure Phase” is pretty much a masterpiece. I also saw them on that tour and they were unreal. I remember when “Ladies & Gentlemen…” came out, most of the people I knew who were into that type of music were disappointed. Only “Cop Shoot Cop” really compared to what we wanted. Here is my take:

    1. Pure Phase
    2. Lazer Guided Melodies
    3. Ladies & Gentlemen…
    4. F*cked Up Inside(Live Album that should be counted)
    5. Complete Works Vol. 1 & 2(Comp. that should also be counted)
    6. Let It Comedown
    7. Sweet Heart Sweet Light
    8. Royal Albert Hall Live
    9. Songs In A & E
    10. Amazing Grace

    • I didn’t realize there was initial backlash to Ladies & Gentlemen. I can understand, because after getting into LGM and Pure Phase, I rarely listen to Ladies & Gentlemen. It’s usually just Pure Phase over and over and over again.

      That Royal Albert Hall Live set is pretty badass though.

  9. I’m utterly perplexed by this list. Aside from the top and bottom entries, I would turn the remainder of this list upside down (maybe keeping Pure Phase ahead of LGM). Surely the fantastic Royal Albert Hall live set is testament to the greatness of their first three records?

  10. I’ve never listened to Amazing Grace in its entirety, but “Lord Let It Rain on Me” is easily my favorite Spiritualized song.

  11. 1. EASILY Laser Guided Melodies. One of if not the favorite album ever,
    2. Ladies and Gentlemen
    3. Pure Phase.
    4. Royal Albert Hall
    5. Not that bothered about all the rest.

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