Monday 7 February 2022

Spiritualized – Everything Was Beautiful

Article by KevW

I haven't commented on any new music here for years, but this mighty effort from Spiritualized is worth it. A bit of info, a bit of opinion and a track by track guide. 

First the bad news: originally due for release at the end of this month, Everything Was Beautiful has been pushed back until April 22nd due to manufacturing issues. 

Now the good news: it's well worth the wait, as reviews so far have suggested. From a personal point of view it's exactly what I was hoping for after the largely melancholy (but still stunning) And Nothing Hurt almost four years ago. 

Prior to the release of And Nothing Hurt, Jason began working with producer Youth (formerly of Killing Joke and producer for a multitude of artists including The Verve, The Orb, The Charlatans and The Firemen, the band he shares with Paul McCartney). From what I heard, 21 tracks were recorded in these sessions, but things weren't right and these recordings were abandoned. That was the advance for the album spent, and this is why Jason had to painstakingly record And Nothing Hurt pretty much in his house on his own (see any articles about the last album for more on this). And Nothing Hurt was nine songs; this must have meant that there was a lot more material floating around which made me personally dismiss Pierce's claims that it could be the final Spiritualized album. Lo and behold we now have another and given that some of these songs have been knocking around in various guises for years, it's probably safe to assume that a lot of this material was attempted in the aborted sessions with Youth, and therefore could mean that Everything Was Beautiful is something of a companion piece to And Nothing Hurt.

“Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt” - Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut 

Maybe this well known literary quote confirms this...

On Everything Was Beautiful there are numerous references to past work (although I really should stress this is no rehash of previous albums), not least the artwork. It's a clear reference to the pill packaging of Ladies & Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space – an album that also took its name from a literary quote (Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder) – but notice that the silhouette of the unfolded packaging in the image above is the shape of a pill press, complete with pill in the middle. A clever touch. 

Always Together With You:

The album's first single came out of the blue in November. 2014's Always Forgetting With You (The Bridge Song) had until now seemed like a man looking over his shoulder to a style/genre that he was moving away from. Something of a one-off. It's a song Jason has said he always considered unfinished (a demo). This rerecorded, finalised version is pretty gargantuan with overlaying vocals in the vein of the song Ladies & Gentlemen We're Floating In Space or Perfect Miracle from the last album. The video is a strangely compelling compilation of clips showing various aspects of humanity and wonders of nature. My interpretation? Well... you'll notice that for the first half of the video the silhouette of the pill press/pill packaging is masking the clips, all of which are beautiful/life affirming/spectacular... however you want to put it. Then when this pharmaceutical packaging is taken away we're bombarded with disaster, pollution, war, horror. With the medication things are beautiful, but take away the medication and we see what it has been masking all the time; the reality of what humanity is doing to the world. Are we just medicating ourselves with TV, media, commercialism, celebrity fascination, gossip... music? Are we failing to see the bigger picture because the drugs of modern life are anaesthetising us to the stark reality? Just a thought...

The Best Thing You Never Had (The D Song):

One of the songs that had me convinced the previous album wouldn't be the last and also had me convinced that the next album would be more upbeat. This was first played live as The D Song a few times back in 2013. To the best of my knowledge there are no high quality recordings of these shows out there, just a couple of crowd recordings from camera phones. But it seemed like a garage rock/Krautrock stomper. The finished version chucks in a load of brass and gospel and is just the bluesy, psych-rock opus I'd been hoping for. Oh, and when the guitar fires up properly, there's a very deliberate nod to Electricity, but only briefly. There's already a sense of reinvigoration here despite this lyrically not being a bed of roses. The production and orchestration makes it bristle with a moody nonchalance. 

Let It Bleed (Song For Iggy):

A couple of obvious musical references in the title. There are hints of Let It Bleed era Rolling Stones here, but only hints. Again we get a lot of horns, gospel and a bubbling electrical undercurrent... this album is the biggest production Spiritualized have given us since Let It Come Down. Let It Bleed is a proper builder and is filled with ghosts of previous Spiritualized songs... that piano is like... something by them, it's just difficult to pinpoint exactly what. That tremolo effect simmering away in the background is reminiscent of... well, again, nothing you can pinpoint. It's the same with many aspects of this track. But who is Iggy? There doesn't seem to be any clear references to Mr Pop.


A country ballad in the middle of a space-rock, psych-blues, electro-Kraut odyssey? Seems strange but it really does fit and once you get your head around it, it really is beautiful. The production here is masterful, as is the songwriting. Jason can't take the full credit for that for once... if you think you've heard this before then maybe you're a fan of Nikki Lane. The two toured together and co-wrote this back in 2012. Lane recorded a demo of the track as Crazy (All Messed Up) before releasing it two years later as Out Of My Mind. On paper it may seem an odd fit but with Spaceman's production and distinctive vocal it certainly feels very much like a Spiritualized song, and when he sings “all of my thoughts are of you” it's more than just a crowbarred in reference to a previous classic. It fits perfectly. 

The Mainline Song/The Lockdown Song:

Oh Boy. Dreams do come true. Having heard glimpses of the unreleased songs that were still out there I was hoping for a psychedelic Krautrock masterpiece, taking in the drones and reverberation of the first couple of albums and throwing in the songcraft, subtlety, gospel and ornate organic layering that Jason has been developing ever since. And here it is. Again this is a reworking though; in 2016 Jason recoded two instrumental tracks for fashion brand Kenzo Paris, one for the men's collection and one for the women's. These two intricately layered psychedelic electro-drones ventured into territory that it seemed he'd spent the past decade moving away from, but if 16 minute, ambient space-rock epics are your bag then they really were quite something. Well, The Mainline Song contains elements of one of these tracks, condensed and with added horns and gospel (as is a theme on the album) and a second half that introduces lyrics that worm their way into your brain in a very good way. If you're familiar with the album Pure Phase then you'll be able to pick up distant traces of that echoing down through the years. It's a song that only Jason Pierce could have made, and thank God he has. Is it too early to make a claim for this perhaps being my favourite ever Spiritualized song...? 

“Sweet heart, sweet light

oh babe it's a beautiful night

and I wanted to know

if you wanted to go

to the city tonight-ight-ight-ight-ight-ight...”

The A Song (Laid In Your Arms):

Where to go from there? No fear, this is no come down. Of all the unreleased tracks I knew about, this was the most anticipated. Another that was first performed live around a decade ago. When And Nothing Hurt was released I looked for this in the track listing and didn't see it. Maybe it was recorded with a different name? Nope. So it was a personal joy to see that it would be included here. The A Song is noticeably different from those live recordings, perhaps in a similar way to how Here It Comes evolved from the live shows to its finished version on the last album. It seems a tad slower but a lot more majestic. Not least because that guitar riff is now much more grandiose and orchestral, becoming engulfed in Spirituailzed's trademark psychedelic squall before temporarily emerging from the other side unscathed, only to be swallowed up again. The lyrics mix bluesy Americana with possible (well, likely, it is Spiritualized after all) drug references. He kept us waiting with this one but it was worth it.

I'm Coming Home Again:

Pierce has always been a man who does proper closing tracks, with some album-enders seeming to be purpose written for just that job. Whatever the genesis of I'm Coming Home Again, it certainly fits into this lineage. However, although its name might recall Pure Phase's closer Feel Like Going Home, this is much more swampy. More akin to Ladies & Gentleman's finale Cop Shoot Cop, but it sounds as though it could have been included on Sweet Heart Sweet Light and is something of a sunken-eyed cousin of Headin' For The Top Now. A soup of bluesy desperation, forlorn gospel and a dark, engulfing sensation that the end is near. That there is no way out. Yet with the ambitious layers, occasional shotgun drumming, bells and haunted choral voices it becomes a thing of distressing majesty; something that has peppered Spiritualized's career. It's mightily impressive.

For all the sonic reverberations and lyrical hat-tips to his previous work, Everything Was Beautiful almost has the sense of a rebirth. A reconnection with the more electric psych of early Spiritualized yet done in a way that he hasn't quite done before. It was said many times that And Nothing Hurt was a culmination or distillation of a 30 year career (almost 40 if you include Spacemen 3) but that was never something I could see myself. If anything it's this album that fits that bill, and given the obvious lyrical references it's not something Pierce has tried to hide. Could all of this be dropping a hint that this time it really will be the final Spiritualized album? Well, if the info about those sessions with Youth are true then there are still at least five unreleased songs plus whatever's been written since, so it's highly unlikely. On this album Pierce seems more focused and reenergised. In the future, when all the dust finally settles on this astonishing career, if Everything Was Beautiful isn't considered to be one of the very greatest Spiritualized albums, then it means we must be in for a hell of a ride in the coming years. 

Pre-order the album

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