Formed in: 1990, Rugby England
Key Albums: Lazer Guided Melodies (1992), Ladies and Gentlemen We are Floating in Space (1997), Let it Come Down (2001)
Spiritualized are an English band brewing a bruised blend of space-rock, blues, gospel, garage-rock, and white-noise. The work of former Spacemen 3 member Jason Pierce, Spiritualized have featured an ever-evolving cast across their expansive discography. In 2005, Pierce was hospitalized with double pneumonia, and clinically died twice. He bounced back to finish off the sixth Spiritualized LP, 2008's Songs in A&E.
Before Spiritualized, Pierce had been a member of the infamous Spacemen 3, a band who gained fame in underground rock circles for their boasts of copious drug usage. But a falling-out between Pierce and Pete Kember fractured the group, and he and the other members —guitarist Mark Refoy, bassist Will Carruthers, drummer Jonny Mattock— form a splinter group. The first Spiritualized single, a cover of The Troggs' "Anyway That You Want Me," is released in 1990, a year before Spacemen 3 officially break up.
After a string of singles, Spiritualized (at this point joined by Pierce's girlfriend, Kate Radley, on keyboards) release their debut album, Lazer Guided Melodies, in 1992. Working with an array of guitar effects, its songs come like waves, culminating in the classic, epic, gospel-influenced closing cut, "Shine a Light." To cement its status as 'Album,' the CD version is sequenced with the songs in four large blocks, mirroring how it'd play on double-vinyl."The whole thing is meant to be listened to in one take," Pierce later tells Drop-d. "When you're sitting around playing music at home it takes too much effort to keep dropping the needle in on the tracks you like. I only ever knew people who'd play the whole side of an album."
By the time the second Spiritualized LP, Pure Phase, was released in February 1995, Pierce had sacked all former Spacemen 3 members from the band, centring the lineup around he, Radley, and Sean Cook. Built on a continuous guitar-tremoloing 'phase' running throughout, and with orchestral parts played by the Balanescu Quartet, Pure Phase is released under the name Spiritualized Electric Mainline.
In July of 1995, Spiritualized support stadium shoegazers the Verve, four days after Radley has secretly married their frontman Richard Ashcroft. The marriage isn't publicly announced, however, until almost two years later. During that time, Pierce slides into heartache, depression, and, according to Cook, heroin addiction.
Ladies and Gentlemen We are Floating in Space
From these dark days, Pierce draws obvious inspiration. 1997's Ladies and Gentlemen We are Floating in Space (its title taken from Jostein Gaardner’s philosophical novel, Sophie’s World) is his most ambitious, most far-reaching record yet. Jettisoning the familiar space-rock guitar-effects, the album wholly embraces gospel, choral, Americana, and free-jazz, and layers instruments in arrangements reminiscent of Phil Spector's wall-of-sound.
It's Pierce's most diverse, radical record yet ("there really is no reason why twelve songs that different from each other in style or arrangement should sound like the same band," he confesses) but it's immediately his most successful, both commercially and critically. Ladies and Gentlemen peaks at #4 on the UK charts, and is crowned Album of the Year by the NME, besting more popular picks OK Computer by Radiohead, and Urban Hymns by the Verve.
The album is released in a limited-edition run of mock pill-boxes, with instructions proudly trumpeting "Spiritualized is used to treat the heart and soul" and "in cases where Spiritualized is used over a long period of time dependence may occur."
On June 15, 1997, Spiritualized became the last ever band to play at Factory Records' infamous Manchester club, The Haçienda. Later that year, on November 26, Pierce and co hauled to the top of Toronto's CN Tower to play, punningly, the World's Highest-Ever Show.
In 1999, Pierce fires more members, dismissing Cook, guitarist Mike Mooney, and drummer Damon Reece via legal correspondence. This comes at the beginning of recordings for the fourth Spiritualized album, 2001's Let it Come Down. Pierce's most gospel, orchestral record yet, it features over 120 musicians, even if its lyrical themes (in songs like "The Straight and the Narrow" and "The 12 Steps") seem to be about the road back from addiction.
2003's Amazing Grace continues this thematic trend, its front-cover emblazoned with a suitably-significant dangling arm. The record razes away the orchestral grandeur: recorded in three weeks, its garage-rock influence recalls Pierce's Spacemen 3 days.
In June 2005, mere days after appearing on stage at the Queen Elizabeth Hall alongside Patti Smith and Kevin Shields, Pierce was rushed to hospital with double-pneumonia. He spent a month in ICU, on his deathbed. He recovers, and discusses his brush with death with the English press. "You could argue that it was drug related," he tells The Guardian. "You could argue that everything in my life is drug related."
In 2006, Pierce begins playing shows as Spiritualized Acoustic Mainline, with just acoustic guitar, organ, a string section, and a choir. "In the past, we've used noise as a kind of power, but with these acoustic shows, their power came from the fact that they were stripped down," Pierce says. "Going 'acoustic' was never something I planned on doing, and the effects have been far greater than I ever would've conceived."
In 2008, Spiritualized released Songs in A&E, an album that resonates with "that real beautiful atmosphere you get in hospitals." Dealing with "love, death, religion, the whole mess of it," the album is celebrated more as survival story than pure recording.
Disease again lingers throughout the next Spiritualized album, 2012's Sweet Heart Sweet Light. Made whilst Pierce was battling a degenerative liver condition —fighting it with the aid of a cocktail of experimental pharmaceuticals— it's an album peering into the abyss, filled with lyrical references to God, death, and suicide.
"I was popping myself up with these chemicals everyday, so it felt like I wasn't right in my own head while I was making the record," Pierce told Pitchfork. "And now I've got this record, but it doesn't feel like I made it, in a weird way."