Album Of The Week

Album Of The Week: Spiritualized Everything Was Beautiful

Bella Union/Fat Possum
Bella Union/Fat Possum

For a moment there, it seemed like Everything Was Beautiful might never exist. In 2018, Jason Pierce returned with the eighth Spiritualized album, And Nothing Hurt. It was his first in six years, and he promptly spent its rollout saying it could very well be the last. Artists sometimes say stuff like that, and it’s easy to brush it off. But when I interviewed him that summer, I believed him. He had made another great Spiritualized album, but a smaller one — an album that seemed fractured and weathered and, after speaking to him, an extension of a very exhausted and drained headspace. He spent most of that conversation dwelling on what the album was supposed to be — louder, more expansive — and then on the fact he couldn’t seem to find a positive thing to say about the painstaking process of crafting it at home.

It turns out there was indeed more to the story, which partially explains Pierce’s reticence about presenting And Nothing Hurt as Spiritualized’s great big comeback. Everything Was Beautiful completes the Kurt Vonnegut-quoting title of And Nothing Hurt, and the relatively brisk waiting period between Spiritualized albums this time around suggests that these are sister projects. Originally, they were intended to be very symbiotic. Back then, Pierce envisioned a double album with the full quote as its title, culled from the same family of songs written in 2013 and 2014. His label head talked him out of it. And Nothing Hurt displayed Spiritualized at one juncture, and then the years since have allowed Everything Was Beautiful to blossom into a very different companion piece.

And Nothing Hurt was one of the calmest Spiritualized releases, all twilit classic rock balladry pushing the project’s gospel tinges to the fore. Everything Was Beautiful recalls the astral bombast of Spiritualized’s earlier albums more enthusiastically than anything Pierce has done in 20 years. “If you want a rocket ship/ I would be a rocket ship for you/ If you want the galaxies/ I would walk the galaxies with you… If you want a shooting star/ I would be a shooting star with you… If you want to be a universe, I would be a universe for you,” Pierce sings in the album’s opener and lead single, “Always Together For You.” Knowingly leaning into the spaceman imagery, he’s writing a star-gazing love song, but also a manifesto for Everything Was Beautiful. In 2018, he told me he liked albums that sounded like they were beamed in from a satellite someplace we’d never been; he was disappointed And Nothing Hurt didn’t. Everything Was Beautiful does.

Spiritualized’s specific formula has long been established: the strung-out church music and frazzled classic rock and free-jazz affectations and psychedelia both classicist and futuristic all blending together in an aesthetic that feels like a cosmic transmission. On Everything Was Beautiful, Pierce does not reinvent Spiritualized, or really break any new ground. He doesn’t need to. He’s already perfected a sound all his own, and in the last 15 or so years, each new Spiritualized album honed in on one strand or approach within that without presenting a new rule book. He’s never made a bad album, and each one at least gives us one or two all-time Spiritualized songs. But at the same time, his 1997 masterpiece Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space has often cast a long shadow. The thing that differentiates Everything Was Beautiful from its last several predecessors is that, for the first time in a very long time, he’s leaning into the part of Spiritualized’s sound that will please the fans of the project at its most far-reaching, the version in which Pierce meditates on love and mortality while arcing through outer space.

Crafted across 11 studios, Everything Was Beautiful is as dense, noisy, and lush as And Nothing Hurt was hushed in its prettiness. It begins with “Always Together With You” — an intentional quote from Ladies And Gentlemen’s immortal opener, with Pierce’s daughter intoning the album title next to Apollo 11 morse code bleeps before the song eventually surges into its celestial chorus and refrain. Afterwards, “Best Thing You Never Had” soars forward on a hypnotic groove eventually embellished by skronking horns and one of those gospel classic rock melodies Pierce can churn out — it feels like him in his wheelhouse in the best way possible.

And just as And Nothing Hurt had barely indulged in the rockier side of Spiritualized, Everything Was Beautiful barely lets up in its dizzying, transfixing drama. In classic Spiritualized fashion, many of these songs start airy or ride one groove, and they just get bigger and bigger and bigger, each immaculate layer getting you closer to that transporting quality of Spiritualized’s best songs. “Let It Bleed (For Iggy)” initially seems like it’s mellowing out, before cresting into an outro that sounds like the Stones singing over Pink Floyd. “The Mainline Song” nods back to Pure Phase’s “Electric Mainline,” another primarily instrumental zone-out, inspired by the movement of trains across the American landscape. Aside from the gentle country lament of “Crazy,” a co-write with Nikki Lane, almost everything on the album is forward momentum. When you consider the various health struggles that colored the narratives of several recent-ish Spiritualized albums, or the overall dispirited tone Pierce was adopting just a few years ago, Everything Was Beautiful sounds like reinvigoration.

“I laboured over this life too long/ There’s nothing to behold/ I wanted it to be better for you,” Pierce sings in “Let It Bleed.” It’s one of several lines, like the refrain in “Always Together For You,” that feel not just like mission statements for the album but commentary on Spiritualized as a whole. Alongside it, there are sentiments like “These are the words, they’re as old as the hills/ Cooked on a diet of mushrooms and pills.” If there was supposed finality in the quiet of And Nothing Hurt, there’s a different hint of it here. Songs reference Spiritualized’s past, and Pierce’s sense of mortality grows ever deeper.

But at the same time, Everything Was Beautiful feels like a rebirth, Spiritualized roaring back to life, reclaiming the vivid colors of its past. There was always a slight smirk to And Nothing Hurt as a title, as there is in Everything Was Beautiful, when you take Spiritualized’s narcotic-laced history into account. Yet those words are touching on a core element of the project. Everything Was Beautiful feels like a sentiment all of Pierce’s albums strove to believe; he thought about using the quote way back in the mid-‘90s. This is an album where you can hear a master at work, whose particular gift is inviting us to a beleaguered, hard-fought, and thus completely transformative transcendence. It’s good to be along for the voyage again.

Everything Was Beautiful is out 4/22 via Bella Union/Fat Possum. Pre-order it here.

Other albums of note out this week:
• Pusha T’s It’s Almost Dry
• Fontaines D.C.’s Skinty Fia
• Undeath’s It’s Time… To Rise From The Grave
• Bonnie Raitt’s Just Like That…
• King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s Omnium Gatherum
• Jane Inc.’s Faster Than I Can Take
• Claire Rousay’s everything perfect is already here
• Real Lies’ Lad Ash
• Hatchie’s Giving The World Away
• Georgia Harmer’s Stay in Touch
• Haru Nemuri’s Shunka Ryougen
• Amenra, Cave In, And Marissa Nadler’s Songs Of Townes Van Zandt Vol. III
• S. Carey’s Break Me Open
• Defcee’s For All Debts Public And Private
• Tess Roby’s Ideas Of Space
• Patrick Watson’s Better In The Shade
• Roger Eno’s The Turning Year
• Psychedelic Porn Crumpets’ Night Gnomes
• Jason Aldean’s Georgia
• Suki Waterhouse’s I Can’t Let Go
• JennyLee’s Heart Tax
• Mister Goblin’s Bunny
• Guppy’s Big Man Says Slappydoo
• Karen Dalton’s Shuckin’ Sugar
• Black Matter Device’s Autonomous Weapons
• Christian Blunda’s Funky Punks In Space
• My Idea’s CRY MFER
• Old Crow Medicine Show’s Paint This Town
• Shinedown’s Planet Zero
• The Waterboys’ All Souls Hill
• Labrinth’s Euphoria Season 2 Official Score
• Robin Carolan & Sebastian Gainsborough’s The Northman (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
• Mdou Moctar’s Afrique Refait Remix Album
• Neko Case’s Wild Creatures
• Jon Porras’s Arroyo EP
• Kate Bollinger’s Look At It In The Light EP
• Primus’ Conspiranoid EP
• Kirk Hammett’s Portals EP
• Sun’s Signature’s Sun’s Signature EP

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