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Spiritualized - And Nothing Hurt Music Album Reviews

On what may or may not be the final album from his legendary space-rock project, Jason Pierce finally sounds as though he has a hold on his passions, preoccupations, and demons.

Jason Pierce does not make casual records. Since the start of his career, nearly four decades ago, the co-founder of Spacemen 3 and the center of the Spiritualized universe has dived headlong into sounds, styles, and themes with ecclesiastical obsessiveness. In Spacemen 3, he created a funhouse of droning guitars and drugs, tunneling between primitive rock’n’roll and shamanistic hum as if following the true path to deliverance. And in Spiritualized, the audacious band through which he’s pursued pharmaceutical and romantic salvation for the past quarter-century, he has compromised nothing, sparing no expense or indulgence. A gospel choir quoting Elvis, an ambulance-siren orchestra embodying addiction, a string ensemble stretching for heaven: Spiritualized have always aimed to match the grandness of Pierce’s subject matter, monumental stuff like sex and death, God and despair. Pierce does not cobble songs into albums; though erratic, he aims to make masterpieces, unified responses to our biggest anxieties.

More than any previous Spiritualized album, however, And Nothing Hurt feels like a mere set of songs, an accessible group of tunes that may be painstakingly constructed but are only casually connected. This isn’t (despite the title) an extended metaphor for the release of heaven or heroin, and there’s no lingering feeling that these songs were written from the doorstep of certain death. And Nothing Hurt isn’t a trembling reaction to the sounds of Pierce’s past, like the middling Amazing Grace, or a maximalist exposition of them, like Let It Come Down. Pierce simply distills and gathers the essence of what has often made Spiritualized so powerful—hypnotic hymns of self-doubt, charging rock songs about confusion, swooning R&B odes to love—setting aside his past compulsion to make an overarching statement in favor of making a compact album. Some of these songs, like the romantic “Let’s Dance,” are as soft and warm as Christmas lights strung above a dive bar; others, like the caustic “The Morning After,” are as cutting and jarring as teenage pain. Taken together, they feel like Pierce coming to comfortable terms with his legacy.

During the last decade, he has often talked about writing like a grownup, about being a little truer to the experience of someone in his 50s than songs that recount afternoons spent with “me, my spike in my arm, and my spoon” tend to be. He finally does it on And Nothing Hurt: Pierce sings about the exigencies of adulthood, the anxieties of older age, and the realities of a lifetime spent letting people down. Even when he describes teenage terror, as on the righteously wailing “The Morning After,” it’s through the lens of a parent and someone who survived his own adolescent hell.

Pierce finds new resonance in the pedestrian, forging comfortable new connections to the rest of us. When he wants a relationship to end, he lies and says his cell phone is broken, the Spaceman becoming the ghost. He dances to Big Star’s “September Gurls” in a bar that’s closing, content to waste hours falling for a new paramour. He longs for a weekend getaway in the California desert and worries, like the rest of us, about the grumpy cop filling quotas on some built-for-speed backroad. Even the loftiest songs here, like twilit closing pair “The Prize” and “Sail on Through,” depend upon a newfound directness. Pierce wonders about the meaning of life (could it be love?) and questions his ability to keep up his end of any bargain. “Gonna burn brightly for a while,” he croons in his modest way, “then you’re gone.” There’s nothing to parse, no hidden meaning to unpack in Pierce’s feelings about this moment in his life.

If And Nothing Hurt feels only loosely connected as a whole, the individual songs are another matter entirely. Each is a meticulously realized testament to Pierce’s endless pursuit of perfection. He spent years shaping these songs alone, building the sounds with scraps culled from his record collection and with parts written for nearly 20 musicians and recorded in 10 studios, including his bedroom. At various points, Pro Tools—designed in part to help musicians juggle a massive number of inputs with relative ease—forbade him from adding anything else. That intricacy is the real delight of And Nothing Hurt. Despite the grandeur of these tunes, and the way they seem built to fill both regal concert halls and big, dark rock clubs, the best way to listen to them might be at home with lights out or eyes closed, headphones clamped tight. You can ignore the forest of the songs themselves and marvel at the trees within them, as if this were GAS or Grouper, not some survivor of space-rock bluster.

Listen closely to “Here It Comes (The Road) Let’s Go,” for instance, and you’ll notice a serialized electronic melody, moving up and down with the rhythm section like a ghost in the machine. It is the foil to Pierce’s sharp gospel guitar lick, framing a musical tug of war between the influences of Pops Staples and Tod Dockstader. And there’s the power electronics spree that knifes through the Sousa-sized horn march of “Let’s Dance,” as if Merzbow were battling the London Philharmonic. These are bold juxtapositions, contrasting compositional elements so at odds that they run the risk of coming across as gimmicks. But Pierce’s authorial scrupulousness and the same slavish devotion to an ideal that made Ladies and Gentlemen... a masterpiece and Spacemen 3 an institution gives these songs, one by one, their power.

Two years ago, Pierce mentioned that this album might be his last, largely because he fears repeating himself. Just last month, though, he recanted, admitting that this has been a refrain for much of his career. Either way, there could be worse exits. Pierce has spent a career wrestling with his passions, demons, and preoccupations in Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized. Perhaps for the first time, on And Nothing Hurt, it sounds as though he has a hold on them—and not they on him. That’s a life’s work, tucked into 48 minutes.


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