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Lazer Guided Melodies , 7/10
Pure Phase , 7.5/10
Ladies And Gentlemen, 7/10
Let It Come Down , 6/10
Amazing Grace (2003), 4.5/10
Songs in A&E (2008), 6/10
Sweet Heart Sweet Light (2012), 5/10

Spacemen 3's guitarist Jason Pierce formed Spiritualized as the natural sequel to his old band, with the same rhythm section, Mark Refoy on guitar and newcomer Kate Radley on keyboards. Lazer Guided Melodies (1992) was notable for the wildly schizophrenic dynamics that flung most songs between acoustic and quasi-symphonic passages. Pierce's abuse of drones and tremolos to create hypnotic lullabies and wavering ragas reached an almost baroque peak on Pure Phase (1995), recorded by the trio of Pierce, Radley and bassist Sean Cook. By then, Pierce had developed a process of scientific layering of sounds that was, basically, an exaggeration of Phil Spector's and Brian Wilson's production styles of yore. The lush trance-pop of Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space (1997) was almost the antithesis of his old "shoegazing" style. Overflowing with quotations from multiple genres, traditions and styles (and a penchant for gospel music), it exuded grace and majesty, even when it indulged in instrumental orgies. Pierce's cynical reappropriation of other people's music induced a Babylonian merry-go-round that outdid everybody at their own game while not playing their games at all. Abandoned by both Cook and Radley, Pierce recorded Let It Come Down (2001) with help from dozens of external musicians, but the result was a concept album on the subject of "getting high" that did not break any new ground. In general, the point with Spiritualized was whether theirs was art or technology.
(Translation of my original Italian text by Maria Giusti)

Coming out of the crowd of the 1980’s psychedelic revival, Spiritualized quickly became one of the most influential groups of the 1990s, coining a sound that harkens back to their roots but interprets psychedelia in terms of sophisticated arrangement instead of quirkiness or emotion.

Jason Pierce, guitarist of Spacemen 3, was one of the inventors of the melodic-psychedelic “shoegaze” style. Pierce formed Spiritualized with Mark Refoy on guitar, Kate Radley on keyboards and the last rhythm section of Spacemen 3 (Willie Carruthers and Jon Mattock). The group debuted with a ritual sequence of singles (“Any Way That You Want Me” in June 1990, “Feel So Sad”, “Run/I Want You” and “Sway”) that, for however monotonous and ragtag, brought Pierce’s psychedelic sensibility, sweet and transcendent, into focus, just a bit more melodic and cadenced than Spacemen 3.

The praxis of Lazer Guided Melodies (Dedicated, 1992) is the same already explored in the previous band and in these singles: an extremely loud crescendo, that leads from an almost acoustic beginning to a quasi symphonic finale. Only the chronic inexperience of the musicians inhibits Spiritualized from truly exploring the extremes of this praxis and constrains them to concentrate on a compromise. Many tracks sink into the most stereotypical sonorities of the genre, beneath blankets of tremolo and whispering breezes, but they accentuate the effect with the skillful use of studio technology.

The songs with the most “manipulated” harmonies, such as “Shine a Light” and “200 Bars” seem like late Beach Boys baroque extravaganzas (but with effects that are more sophoriphic than hallucinatory).

“You Know It’s True” is a very tenuous folk-rock lullaby spoiled by the tremolo in charge. “If I Were With Her Now” livens the album with a marching fuzztone cadence, punctuated by an explosion of bells and a staccato of saxaphones.

It is almost inevitable that this craftwork also achieves the instrumental piece, “Symphony Space”, a haze of sidereal, unorganized noises that would go great with “ambient house.”

The album also contains a few singles: “Run” is an intensely spiritual track, that creates a “cosmic“ boogie of sampled guitars, the singer’s hypnotic mantra, and a minimal organ requiem; “I Want You” a fluffy lullaby worthy of the first album of The Velvet Underground, is the anteprima to “You Know It’s True”; “Sway” couples a frenetic raga trembling with a strong, almost techno, beat.

Pierce’s studio collage of art culminates in the second album (neglecting limited edition rip-offs), Pure Phase (Dedicated, 1995), a work of the scientific stratification of sounds. The music played by Pierce, Sean Cook (bass) and Kate Radley (keyboard) all-in-all is an insignificant fact: what counts is Pierce’s digital alchemy.

From the effect of this luxurious and eccentric “arrangement”, the album ends up watering down their characteristic hypnotic drones. The music is a triumph of hippie spirituality, but all-in-all, it is an astute recycling (and, at most, post-modern) of genres and stereotypes. Some references are explicit, like in the blues-rock of “Good Times” and in the gospel of “Medication” (one of the only real “songs” on the album). The masks that Pierce puts on them are abstruse and deforming. The tone is always the lazy and coy one of an all-out drug addict, but the genius of the informed studio user. From the fusion of these two personalities, an entire generation of British experimenters is born, and Pierce magistrally represents it. The psychedelic ride of “These Blues” and the dilated raga of “Take Good Care of It” have been played thousands of times in the annals of rock, but no one had ever played them like him.

By dint of re-elaborating canon, Pierce achieves original and suggestive results, even if only for a few minutes. For example, in “The Slide Song” for ethereal vocalizations and bucolic flutes, or in the spectral lullaby of “Let It Flow”.

Without conceding a millimeter of his trance-psychedelic position, in many moments Pierce’s method brushes avant-guard music: in the micro-concert of feedback and violin of “All of My Tears”, in the mini-symphony of “Spread Your Wings”, in its chameleon-like procedure, a truly heart-breaking melody soars. The minimalist wandering of “Electric Mainline” instead looks at Terry Riley of “Rainbow in Curved Air”. Lastly, a detour in the ambient realm with echoes iterated with “Pure Phase”.

Pierce lets the tracks repeat themselves ad infinitum, minute variations of a grand principal variation. In this way, he can toy with the recording apparatus and savor with Olympic calm his tricks of psychedelic master. The album is the most self-indulgent of his career, but Pierce is recognized as having performed miracles of arrangement, bundling up “pretty” sounds in a painstaking manner.

The Spiritualized lullabys that put an insomniac to sleep chase hynposis and trance with the passion of a collector but with the talent of a librarian. If they had the slightest sense of humor, they would be a splendid parody of the genre. As often happens with British psychedelia, Spiritualized say in ten minutes what they could say in three, and often say absolutely nothing at all.

Refoy then formed Slipstream.

Usciti dalla mischia del revival psichedelico degli anni '80, gli Spiritualized sono presto diventati uno dei gruppi piu` influenti degli anni '90, coniando un sound che si riallaccia alle loro radici ma che interpreta la psichedelia in termini di arrangiamento sofisticato invece che di eccentricita` o di emozione.

Jason Pierce, chitarrista degli Spacemen 3, era stato uno degli inventori dello stile melodico-psichedelico "shoegaze". Pierce formo` gli Spiritualized con Mark Refoy alla chitarra, Kate Radley alle tastiere e l'ultima sezione ritmica degli Spacemen 3 (Willie Carruthers e Jon Mattock). Il gruppo debutto` con la rituale sequenza di singoli (Anyway That You Want Me nel giugno 1990, Feel So Sad, Run/ I Want You e Sway), che, per quanto monotoni e raffazzonati, misero a fuoco la sensibilita` psichedelica di Pierce, dolce e trascendente, appena piu` melodica e cadenzata degli Spacemen 3.

La prassi di Lazer Guided Melodies (Dedicated, 1992) e` la stessa gia` esplorata nel complesso precedente e in questi singoli: un crescendo stentoreo, che porta da un inizio quasi acustico a un finale quasi sinfonico. Soltanto l'imperizia cronica dei musicisti impedisce agli Spiritualized di esplorare davvero gli estremi di questa prassi e li costringe a concentrarsi su un compromesso. Molti brani affondano nelle sonorita` piu` stereotipiche del genere, sotto coltri di tremolo e brezze di bisbigli, ma accentuano l'effetto con un uso sapiente della tecnologia di studio.
Le canzoni dalle armonie piu` "manipolate", come Shine A Light e 200 Bars, sembrano stravaganze barocche dei tardi Beach Boys (ma con effetti piu` soporiferi che allucinogeni).
You Know It's True e` una cantilena folk-rock tenuissima, deturpata dal tremolo di turno. If I Were With Her Now vivacizza il disco con una marcetta cadenzata di fuzztone, scandita da un tripudio di campanelli e da staccato di sassofoni.
E` quasi inevitabile che questo artigianato pervenga anche alla piece strumentale, Symphony Space, una nebulosa di disordinati rumori siderali che andrebbe benissimo per l'"house ambientale".
Il disco comprende anche alcuni dei singoli: Run e` un brano intensamente spirituale, che fonde un boogie "cosmico" della chitarra campionata, un mantra ipnotico del cantante e un requiem minimalista dell'organo; I Want You, una soffice ninnananna degna del primo album dei Velvet Underground, e` un'anteprima di You Know It's True; Sway accoppia un frenetico tremolio raga a un possente battito quasi techno.

L'arte di studio collage di Pierce culmina nel secondo album (trascurando truffe a tiratura limitata), Pure Phase (Dedicated, 1995), un lavoro di stratificazione scientifica dei suoni. La musica suonata da Pierce, Sean Cook (basso) e Kate Radley (tastiere) e` un fatto tutto sommato trascurabile: cio` che conta e` l'alchimia digitale di Pierce.
Per effetto di questo "arrangiamento" eccentrico e lussureggiante, il disco finisce per annacquare i loro caratteristici droni ipnotici. La musica e` tronfia di spiritualita` hippie, ma in ultima istanza e` semplicemente un riciclaggio astutissimo (e, al massimo, postmoderno) di generi e stereotipi.
Alcuni riferimenti sono espliciti, come nel blues-rock di Good Times e nel gospel di Medication (una delle poche vere "canzoni" del disco). Le maschere che Pierce mette loro addosso sono lambiccate e deformanti. Il tono e` sempre quello pigro e lezioso del drogato ad oltranza, ma l'ingegno e` quello del nozionista di studio. Dalla fusione fra queste due personalita` e` nata un'intera generazione di sperimentatori britannici, e Pierce la rappresenta magistralmente. La giostra psichedelica di These Blues e il raga dilatato di Take Good Care Of It sono state suonate mille volte negli annali del rock, ma nessuno le aveva suonate come lui.
A forza di rielaborare il canone, Pierce perviene a risultati originali e suggestivi, anche se soltanto per pochi minuti. Per esempio, nella Slide Song per vocalizzi eterei e flauto bucolico, o nella ninnananna spettrale di Let It Flow.
Senza cedere un millimetro della sua postazione trance-psichedelica, in diversi momenti il metodo di Pierce sfiora la musica avanguardia: nel micro-concerto per feedback e violino di All Of My Tears, nella mini-sinfonia di Spread Your Wings, che, nel suo procedere camaleontico, libra una melodia davvero struggente. Il girotondo minimalista di Electric Mainline guarda invece al Terry Riley di Rainbow In Curved Air. Infine una puntatina in campo ambientale con i riverberi iterati di Pure Phase.
Pierce lascia che i brani si ripetano all'infinito, minute variazioni di una grande variazione principale. In tal modo puo` giostrare con i macchinari di registrazione e centellinare con calma olimpica i suoi trucchi da maestro psichedelico. L'album e` il piu` autoindulgente della sua carriera, ma a Pierce va riconosciuto di aver compiuto miracoli di arrangiamento, affastellando suoni "carini" in maniera certosina
Le nenie da addormentare un insonne degli Spiritualized vanno a caccia di ipnosi e trance con la passione di un collezionista ma con il talento di un bibliotecario. Se avessero un minimo di sense of humour, sarebbero delle splendide parodie del genere. Come spesso e` accaduto con gli psichedelici britannici, gli Spiritualized dicono in dieci minuti cio` che si potrebbe dire in tre minuti, e talvolta non dicono proprio nulla.

Refoy formo` poi gli Slipstream.

Texturally even richer, lushier, overflowing, the third album, Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space (Arista, 1997), crowns Pierce's ambition as a post-modernist arranger. Pierce has even enrolled a string quartet, a mixed voice choir and a horn section (the loud, dense, stratified, Spector-ian waltz-tempo choral gospel Come Together). The title-track is de facto a classical sonata, solemn and elegant. Composition is only a marginal detail, compared with the effort and care to arrange and produce the songs. Pierce's greatest accomplishment is the graceful and majestic manner in which he shuns the banality of rock genres. We are thus served driving bubblegum (Electricity), chamber easy listening (Broken Heart), a mellow spiritual (Stay With Me) and a large-choir hymn (Cool Waves) with the detachment of a magician.
Ideally, the 8-minute crescendo of I Think I'm In Love fuses everything in one format: cosmic keyboard drone, sleepy bass riff, languid guitar wah-wah, minimalistic piano notes, sentimental harmonica, Beach Boys vocal harmonies.
The deafening instrumental orgies of No God Only Religion (an energetic blues-rock jam) and The Individual (that virtually grafts trip-hop on new age music and coins an "ambient jazz" style) emphasize the experimental nature of this album, whose triumphant moment is the epic 16-minute jam Cop Shoot Cop, featuring Dr John on (swinging) piano and a series of free-form pandemoniums.
Pierce's studied reappropriation of gospel, soul, blues, pop generates a Babylonian merry-go-round that outdoes Spector at Spector-ian productions. What rests to be established is whether this is art or technology.

Live At The Royal Albert Hall (Deconstruction, 1998) crowns the 1997 world tour.

Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space (Arista, 1997) e` armonicamente ricco, lussureggiante, straripante. Pierce ha persino impiegato un quartetto d'archi, un coro di voci miste e una sezione di fiati, oltre al solito arsenale rock ed elettronico. Pierce si fa lodare soprattutto per la grazia e la solennita` con cui sottrae i suoi brani alla banalita` dei generi rock. La composizione vera e propria e` pertanto un dettaglio al cospetto dello sforzo di arrangiamento e produzione. La composizione e` in effetti ben poca cosa, un semplice e umile omaggio al kitsch e al gospel, le due ispirazioni fondamentali del suo sound.
Il tutto viene fuso da I Think I'm In Love: drone di tastiere, riff di basso, wah-wah di chitarra, armonica, vocalizzi alla Beach Boys. L'orgia strumentale di No God Only Religion e le onde di distorsione di The Individual accentuano il carattere sperimentale del lavoro, che va in gloria con l'epica jam di sedici minuti Cop Shoot Cop.
La prassi postmoderna di Pierce trionfa finalmente in questo programmatico riciclaggio di gospel, soul, pop, tutti deformati da un'arte certosina di studio. Resta da stabilire se si tratti di arte o tecnologia.

Live At The Royal Albert Hall (Deconstruction, 1998) corona il tour mondiale del 1997.

Recorded with the help of over 100 musicians (including a choir and an orchestra), but none of the cohorts who went to form Lupine Howl and without Radley (fresh bride of Verve's Richard Ashcroft), Let It Come Down (BMG, 2001) the logical consequence of the Live At The Royal Albert Hall. It is also Spiritualized's most overtly psychedelic album: beginning with On Fire (whose lyrics "let's see how high we can fly" sounds like a manifesto for the rest of the album), the songs virtually compose a concept album on the subject of "getting high". As usual, the "sound" takes front stage over the "music", but there is still an emotional core: the triptych of Out Of Sight, Won't Get To Heaven (ten minutes) and I Didn't Mean To Hurt You, three solemn melodramas that greatly increase the album's artistic level. Otherwise, the gospel elements that were prominent on the previous album (and that still enhance the single Stop Your Crying) are obscured by the more trivial soul-pop of Do It All Over Again and The Straight And The Narrow. And, in general, Pierce does not seem to have enough ideas to fill an album, no matter how many musicians he employs to layer "sounds" on his "music".

The Complete Works (BMG, 2003) collects rarities.

Amazing Grace (Spaceman, 2003) removes all the tricks from Spiritualized's act and leaves the core: psychedelic blues-rock a` la Who (the minor, bombastic ones, here imitated in This Little Life of Mine, She Kissed Me, Never Goin' Back), or Rolling Stones (the minor, pathetic ones, here aped in the morose power-ballad Hold On and in Cheapster). Very few of Jason Pierce's songs fare well after a few years, and none of the songs on this album join that scant company.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Sara)

Registrato con l'aiuto di pi— di 100 musicisti (inclusi un coro ed un'orchestra), ma non delle schiere che sono venute a formare Lupine Howl, Let It Come Down (BMG. 2001) Š la logica conseguenza del Live At The Royal Albert Hall. E anche l'album pi— chiaramente psichedelico degli Spiritualized: iniziando con On Fire (di cui i versi "Vediamo quanto riusciamo volare in alto" suonano come un manifesto per il resto dell'album), le canzoni compongono effettivamente un album concetto sul soggetto del "salire in alto". Come al solito, il "sound" prende parte primaria sulla musica, ma c'Š anche un nucleo emotivo: il trio di Out Of Sight, Won't Get To Heaven (10 minuti) e I Didn't Mean To Hurt You, tre solenni melodrammi che aumentano di molto il livello artistico dell'album. D'altro canto, gli elementi gospel che sono stati rilevanti nell'album precedente (e che ancora valorizzano il singolo Stop Your Crying) sono offuscati dal soul-pop pi— comune di Do It All Over Again e The Straight And The Narrow. E, in generale, Pierce non sembra avere abbastanza idee per riempire un album, non importa quanti musicisti impieghi per aggiungere "sound" alla sua musica.

Pierce almost died, and that experience makes Songs in A&E (Fontana, 2008) his most honest album, with deeply felt elegies such as Death Take Your Fiddle (trotting country rhythm, atmospheric harmonica, campfire humming) and The Waves Crash In (spiraling singalong, circus-like flute and organ, marching-band rhythm). The best moments, though, are to be found in the lively I Gotta Fire (dissonant pub-rock with Rolling Stones-ian overtones) and Yeah Yeah (crackling blues-rock with Bob Dylan-ian overtones), which are also the expections to the rule. The seven-minute melancholy shuffle Baby I'm Just A Fool has its charm too, being drenched in both exotic glockenspiel and neoclassical strings and being blessed with (finally) a noisy bacchanal. The rest, no matter how solidly constructed, lacks the imagination and the verve of Spiritualized's classics. And too many songs are trivial, relying on simple melodies and on the most abused of rhythms (lullabies, waltzes and so forth): Sweet Talk could be a Christmas song for Louis Armstrong, Soul on Fire could be a soul hymn for Marvin Gaye, Sitting On Fire could be an orchestral lament for Neil Young, Borrowed Your Gun could be an anthem for an aging Willie Nelson, etc. Unfortunately, Pierce does not have the vocal skills of any of them. (Translation by/ Tradotto da Tobia D'Onofrio)

Spiritualized Tradotto da Tobia D’Onofrio (fenicetobia@libero.it)

The Complete Works (BMG, 2003) raccoglie rarità.

Amazing Grace Sanctuary (Spaceman, 2003) elimina i fronzoli dai numeri Spiritualized per lasciarne il nocciolo: rock blues psichedelico alla Who (quelli minori e ampollosi, imitati in This Little Life Of Mine, She Kissed Me, Never Goin’ Back), o alla Rolling Stones (quelli minori e patetici, qui scimmiottati nella scontrosa power-ballad Hold On ed in Cheapster). Una manciata di canzoni di Jason Pierce riesce a sopravvivere al passare degli anni, ma nessun pezzo di quest’album va ad aggiungersi al breve elenco.

Avendo rischiato la morte, Songs in A&E (Fontana, 2008) sembra essere l’album più sincero di Pierce, con elegie profonde e toccanti come Death Take Your Fidale. Comunque i momenti migliori sono le due vivaci eccezioni alla regola: I Gotta Fire e Yeah Yeah. Gli altri pezzi, per quanto solidamente costruiti, non possiedono l’energia e la fantasia dei classici Spiritualized. Troppe canzoni sono banali e si affidano a melodie semplici e ritmiche inflazionate (ninna-nanne, valzer, ecc).

Sweet Heart Sweet Light (2012) is a wildly incoherent mixed bag. It boasts one of Pierce's best songs: the nine-minute Hey Jane, that sounds like Bob Dylan fronting the Velvet Underground. But the solemn, organ and piano driven prayer So Long You Pretty Thing decays into Hey Jude-style guitar jamming with a Pink Floyd-ian orchestral and choral surge: more awful than clever. And that is emblematic of most of the album: great ideas that are smothered in somewhat ridiculous parodies of classic rock. Halfway between the (one) success and the (many) failures stand the gospel-jazz chant I Am What I Am, that indulges in gothic guitar noise over a martial, swampy rhythm, and, by comparison, feels like a philosophical manifesto. (Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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