Like all the great albums – and make no mistake, this first Spiritualized long-player truly is one of the best – ‘Lazer Guided Melodies’ defies easy classification. Try summarising ‘Unknown Pleasures’, ‘Spirit Of Eden’ or ‘Autobahn’ say, in simple pithy terms, or placing Talking Heads’ ‘Remain In Light’ or Suicide’s eponymous debut in any handy category at all. Because many of the best works in contemporary music comprise a rich, simultaneous multiplicity of ideas, and that’s unequivocally the case here.
Re-released as the first instalment of The Spaceman Reissue Program that will present us with definitive vinyl editions of the first four Spiritualized albums, this 1992 masterpiece manages, particularly in hindsight, to levitate high above the releases it saw itself emerge around in those heady days of the late 80s and early 90s while also – or certainly at the outset at least, aided by Will Carruthers’ rhythmically complex, Mani-like basslines – belonging firmly in that period too.
For sure, Spiritualized were there among The Stone Roses, Ride and Primal Scream, but what set them apart was the manner in which they could voyage so easily among their musical reference points, but also soar far beyond them, exploring their new-found futurism with wide-eyed zeal.
From the lysergic 60s (‘I Want You’ opens in epic fashion with Mark Refoy’s guitar riffs channelling Pete Townshend on ‘Pinball Wizard’), through the cosmic, glam-hued 70s (see ‘Run’), ‘Lazer Guided Melodies’ also takes huge leaps forward in mesmerising, brilliantly realised paradigm-shifting sequences to what sounds like centuries hence, conjuring up a most singular brand of visionary electronic psychedelia.
Taking the edgy, narcotic garage blues of J Spaceman/Jason Pierce’s recently disbanded Spacemen 3 and elevating that formative and widely hailed aesthetic into a pellucid, star-bound miasma of hypnotic light and magic, the 12 songs on 1992’s ‘Lazer Guided Melodies’ were originally demarcated into four distinct colour-coded sequences – red, green, blue and black – such was Pierce’s deep sense of engagement with both the album he’d envisioned and also with its awaiting listeners.
Reflecting on the transition from Spacemen 3 to the first iteration of the Spiritualized sound, Pierce himself recalls that: “The last Spacemen 3 record was under-realized to me. When I listen back to that stuff it sounds like somebody finding their way. There was a lot of ideas but no way to put them into a space that would make them all work. So, there was a huge freedom forging over the last Spacemen 3 record and when Spiritualized started it was like, ‘OK it’s all yours. Go’.”
Recorded in a Warwickshire studio near Pierce’s flat above a plumbers’ merchant, a place where they predominantly recorded advertising jingles, the raw recordings were then taken to Battery Studios in London, for producer Barry Clempson to work on. “His references were completely outside my world,” says Pierce. “He was playing stuff like Massive Attack, the Horace Andy track with that beautiful tremolo voice, and Rain Tree Crow, very precise and clear productions. But he brought this clarity and definition to it that I could not have done in Rugby. I didn’t know how to make records that sounded like that. It turned out absolutely beautiful.”
And didn’t it just. The album reveals itself to us like a gently unfolding midnight rose in some exquisite hallucinatory vision, adding layers of nuanced depth and erudite, complex musicality as it undulates before us. Even the brief transitionary interlude ‘Smiles’ carries unlikely episodic weight, opening in limpid fashion, but then picking up pace out of nowhere, ending with a stunning, pulsating motorik flourish that barely lasts a minute.
‘Shine A Light’ might well be the defining track though. It manages the deftest trick, melding a languorous lovelorn ballad into a free jazz-inflected experimental mind-expander that carries us on a beguiling ether of sensuous, soulful virtuosity and baroque orchestration, which at its apex evokes Brian Wilson’s work on ‘Pet Sounds’. But then its serenity is slowly eroded by an approaching electrical storm that quietly builds into an explosive crescendo of squalling guitars and, as absolute counterpoint, plaintiff alto sax and tuba.
Yet for all this searching artistry, perhaps the thing that clinches it for this album is its lyrical straightforwardness. If astronaut-in-chief Pierce had attempted to match the grandiose metaphysical poetry of his musical creation with words of similar ambition, then it could have all become too much. And so when he offers half-stoned lines like “So fine / I got everything I need / You got me down on my bended knee” on ‘Step Into The Breeze’, against waves of rapturous, kaleidoscopic dream-pop, it all sound just right – perfect in fact.