Spiritualized - Lazer Guided Melodies - Review
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critics' view

Jason Pierce (a.k.a. the Spaceman) is an alchemist of the best sort—summoning sounds disparate yet similar in their scope and intensity, whether blues & gospel, psychedelic or electronic, the focus is on the core, the seed, beneath these layers of music: a cosmic drone which clears the mind and elevates the soul to a mystic, meditative state. His earlier work in Spacemen 3 captured the original counterculture mantra of "taking drugs to make music to take drugs to" but it was, as the majority of music since the death of the '60s dream, stagnant in the quagmire of the splintered punk age. Even as Pierce and his partner Kember were resurrecting space music (or what the Germans called "kosmische musik"), they were still approaching it from jagged, fuzzy angles.

Pierce wanted to move the music further away from this miasma and deeper into an emotionally cathartic realm—he wanted to SPIRITUALIZE the music. No longer just "Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream…" but also "Dark was the night, cold was the ground." He and his cohorts from Spacemen 3 stormed (or better yet swayed) out of the gate with their first single "Anyway That You Want Me", which fused their technicolor revision of garage rock with a wide screen orchestral spectrum. Pierce was redeveloping the Spector Wall-of-Sound in a new direction. He would first showcase this new direction with the sorrowful yet sublime single "Feel So Sad." It was the lonely, yearning plea of the blues man now become the Spaceman. The epic electronic/orchestral textures soar into the stratosphere. It was no wonder the subtitle was "Rhapsodies." This was classical minimalism reinvented for the so-called age of modern rock. He continued with the singles "Smiles" and "Run", searching for the sound in his head, seeking that perfect celestial mood, and only catching at this heavenly dust when he mixed and re-mixed endlessly.

Out of this almost scientific obsession with the architecture of sound, Pierce and his voyagers sculpted a crystallization of the space music they had heard and tried to capture for years on end. Crucially, there was now a cinematic, poetic depth of emotion which gave these ghostly excursions blood in the veins, not simply heroin. Kate Radley was Pierce's muse and it is her presence which balances his despair.

Some bands are at their apex in their debut and this album stands out from their later works because it doesn't contain the same superfluous excess. It has a sonic clarity and purity of vision which is absent from subsequent sessions. It is more ethereal and flows the best, not only of their albums but of nearly any album. Lazer Guided Melodies is constructed as the ultimate classic vinyl listening experience and it is best heard in its original setting. It is cyclical and contains certain patterns and motifs which recur throughout the journey. The songs are arranged into four suites, each an archetype.

The Red suite is love and the lack thereof. The ancients said we loved someone because we remembered them. "You know I've been here before/And I don't like it anymore/You know it's true/I love you," Pierce laments in the opening lines of the song cycle. Or we love someone because they have forgotten or overlooked us, unrequited love. "If I Were With Her Now" is a joyous leap in the air from this loneliness with its ever rising chorus, chiming dulcimer and pulsing percussion. "I Want You", then, is love without boundaries. "I want you/To realize it's my life/I want you/To take my advice/I want you/To slide with the air you breathe/I want you/To set me free/I'm gonna climb to the highest hill/Gonna take control/Gonna free my will/Gonna swallow it all like some giant pill…" The lyrics are seemingly simple on the surface but made universal by the sweeping arrangements.

The Green suite is nature and celebrates the freedom of wandering down the open road in "Run", which somehow perfectly unites the ramblin' man credo of J.J. Cale's "They Call Me The Breeze" with the motorik groove of the Velvet Underground (but it sounds so much better). It is also the essence of springtime and rebirth, the clear light and fresh breeze of April, filtered through the warm golden tones of Kate Radley's Farfisa organ in "Smiles" and "Step into the Breeze," paeans to the Edenic age of innocence. And it is the ascension into the starry night skies above in the ambient explorations of "Symphony Space."

The Blue suite is, of course, the blues. After the high, the come down. "No chains can hold me/No walls confine me/I'm sick/There's not a thing I want to do about it/I'm tired of it all/I guess that I am through with it all," Pierce's narcotic vocals intone in monotone as the deepest of deep bass throbs echoes and a piano leads the procession off, head nodding, the junkie hymn par excellence. The true church is a community of outcasts and "Shine A Light", the centerpiece of the album, shares with its cosmic Americana counterpart and predecessor ("Shine A Light" from the Stones' Exile on Main St.), this gospel of true grit. It is a prayer subsumed in the static, in the towering crescendo of free jazz noise which engulfs this confessional in the clouds.

The Black suite is the void. "Angel Sigh" is the embodiment of the album cover and a blissful expansion of consciousness, the distillation of the entire trip, with soaring space rock guitars, the steady serenity of Radley's Farfisa, and the urgent swells of the string section which then fade out on the triumphant thrums of the cello. "Sway", guitarist Mark Refoy's piece of the puzzle, is a twinkling, blurry eyed slip into the abyss as the narrator is lost in the night, saying goodbye to family and friends, with a quote similar to Jim Morrison's "This is the strangest life I've ever known." "200 Bars" is the closer, his muse Kate counts down the measures, and the Spaceman stumbles from bar to bar. It's an acceptance of the emptiness we must always encounter in life.

It remains the band's masterpiece, a record of rock hypnosis unlike any other. It is an audiophile's dream and perhaps the best produced album of all time.

Graveyard Poet
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