Spiritualized is best described as what happens when a psychedelic space-rock musician who loves soul and gospel music writes a ton of songs about life and love and using drugs to cope with it all.
Spiritualized were formed by guitarist/vocalist Jason "J. Spaceman" Pierce in 1990 after the breakup of his old band, Spacemen 3. Ever since then he has been the only constant member and principal songwriter, supported by a revolving door's worth of musicians that have included over the years:
- Kate Radley - vocals, keyboards, half of a Creator Couple (1990-1997)
- Tim Lewis ("Thighpaulsandra") - keyboards (1997-2008)
- Tom Edwards - keyboards (1999-present)
- Mark Refoy - guitar (1990-1994)note
- Mike Mooney - guitar (1995-1999)
- Gregg Hale - guitar (1997-1998)
- John Coxon - guitar (1994-1997, 1999-present)note
- Tony Foster ("Doggen") - guitar (1999-present)
- Will Carruthers - bass (1990-1992)
- Sean Cook - bass, harmonica, keyboards (1992-1999)
- Martin Schellard - bass (1999-2003)
- Richard Warren - bass (2003-2008)
- Sam Freeman - bass (2008-2009)
- Thomas Wayne - bass (2009-present)
- Jonny Mattock - drums (1990-1994)note
- Damon Reece - drums (1995-1999)
- Kevin Bales - drums (1999-present)
- Ray Dickaty - saxophone (1997-2003)
Spiritualized's early career, despite being plagued by unstable lineups and Jason taking almost two years to mix their debut album, resulted in two critically acclaimed albums, Lazer Guided Melodies (1992) and Pure Phase (1995). These established Spiritualized's characteristic elements:
- spacey, lushly produced Psychedelic Rock with a heavy Shoegazing influence
- using lots of drones, tremolo and repetition to achieve a hypnotic effect
- apathetic, lethargic vocals
- some chemically-themed lyrics.
Their third album, Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space (1997) is widely regarded as their masterpiece. Here, Jason injected influences from soul, gospel and blues music into his psychedelic blueprint and dialed up the lush production (Phil Spector and Brian Wilson were cited as influences increasingly loudly around this time). He was rewarded with universal critical acclaim and respectable commercial success, Floating in Space reaching #4 on the UK charts. Notably, the album won the NME's Album of the Year award versus Radiohead's OK Computer.
After touring in support of Floating in Space, Spiritualized's current lineup disintegrated. Vocalist/keyboardist/Jason's girlfriend Kate Radley left before the tour began as a result of a complicated Love Triangle between her, Pierce and The Verve frontman Richard Ashcroft. Band members Cook, Reece and Mooney also butted heads with Pierce over poor salaries and other payment issues. In 1999, Pierce responded by drawing up new employment contracts and then using them to fire Cook, Reece and Mooney, a move that triggered surprise and controversy among the press. The three went on to form their own band, Lupine Howl.
A new lineup was unveiled, with Tim "Thighpaulsandra" Lewis on keyboards, Tony "Doggen" Foster on guitars, Martin Schellard on bass and Kevin Bales on drums. The band's next album, Let It Come Down (2001), took four years to create - Pierce's musical illiteracy required him to sing all the orchestral parts into a tape recorder and then transcribe them onto a piano. Come Down took Floating in Space's sound Up to Eleven, employing 115 session musicians which included an orchestra and the London Community Gospel Choir. Come Down also stripped the space rock, psychedelic rock and shoegazing influences form previous albums, doing away with drones, tremolo and free-jazz freakouts in favour of creating an orchestral, baroque pop album with an even heavier Phil Spector influence. Despite the generally positive reception, some critics commented that the album's excessively dense, ornate sound harmed the songs.
Pierce promised to avoid the arduous recording sessions and complex orchestrations of Come Down for the next album, Amazing Grace (2003). He delivered on his promise, recording it in a total of 3 weeks using a more stripped-down production style and a heavier garage rock influence while continuing to draw from gospel music. Reception was mixed to say the least. Notably, this was their last album on their long-term label Dedicated Records, since it was sold off afterwards.
Pierce fell severely ill with severe pneumonia in July 2005 and almost died, spending a long period in hospital undergoing treatment. This near-death experience provided the impetus for the bleak Songs in A&E (2008), which was released on Sanctuary Records in the UK and Fontana International in the USA. Ironically/scarily enough, most of the songs were written before said near-death experience. A&E saw Pierce return to his more expansive Floating in Space sound, but with the psychedelic elements still AWOL, replaced by heavy garage rock and gospel influences, though the free-jazz freakouts reappeared on a few tracks.
The band releases their next album Sweet Heart Sweet Light in April 2012 on Double Six Records, some of its material having already been played live beforehand. Pierce said that it was partly inspired by the experiences of performing Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space live in its entirety, and that it aimed to embrace more poppy material compared to their previous releases. In 2018, the album And Nothing Hurt was released complete with Pierce stating that it's the final Spiritualized album, owing to the arduous, largely solitary recording process.
- 1992 - Lazer Guided Melodies
- 1995 - Pure Phase
- 1997 - Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space
- 2001 - Let It Come Down
- 2003 - Amazing Grace
- 2008 - Songs in A&E
- 2012 - Sweet Heart Sweet Light
- 2018 - And Nothing Hurt
- 1990 - Anyway That You Want Me EP (first Spiritualized release)
- 1991 - Feel So Sad EP
- 1991 - Run/I Want You EP
- 1991 - Smiles/Sway EPnote
- 1992 - Medication EP
- 1993 - Fucked Up Inside (live album)
- 1993 - Good Dope, Good Fun singlenote
- 1993 - Electric Mainline EP
- 1996 - Pure Phase Tones for DJsnote
- 1997 - Supplementary Dosage EP (US promo EP)
- 1998 - Abbey Road EP
- 1998 - Royal Albert Hall October 10, 1997 (live album)
- 2003-2004 - The Complete Works volumes 1 and 2 (compilation)
Spiritualized uses the following tropes:
- A Day in the Limelight: The rare moments when some of the other bandmates do something without Pierce, or guest musicians show up to take the spotlight for a moment. For example, that's Kate Radley counting in the background in "200 Bars" for almost 4 entire minutes without any other vocals (Pierce comes in after she gets to 100), Mark Refoy gets a writing credit for "Sway", three guest vocalists show up on "The Slide Song", and so on.
- Anti-Love Song
- The Artifact: The band's website still uses the medical/pharmaceutical theme famously used for the art and packaging of Ladies and Gentlemen more than a decade ago.
- Subverted with Songs in A&E and Sweet Heart Sweet Light, whose cover arts retain a pharmaceutical theme because they both recall Pierce's medical troubles.
- Artistic Stimulation: A frequent topic in their songs.
- Ballad of X: "The Ballad of Richie Lee"
- Breakup Breakout: Jason found success with Spiritualized after the breakup of Spacemen 3. His main collaborator in that band, Peter Kember... didn't (although he has started to make a name as a Record Producer for bands such as MGMT and Beach House).
- Break-Up Song: Breakup album with Ladies and Gentlemen.
- BSoD Song: You can make a good case for "The Straight and the Narrow", "Won't Get to Heaven (The State I'm In)", "Lord Can You Hear Me", "Lord Let It Rain on Me".
- Call-and-Response Song: "I Think I'm in Love". Doubles as arguable Crowning Moment Of Funny.I think I can rock and roll
(Probably just twisting)
I think I wanna tell the world
(Probably ain't listening)
I think I can fly
(Probably just falling)
I think I'm the life and soul
(Probably just snorting)
- Cluster F-Bomb: "Come Together"
- Cover Version: "Anyway That You Want Me" by The Troggs (their first release under the Spiritualized name), "Born, Never Asked" by Laurie Anderson, "Why Don't You Smile Now" by Lou Reed and John Cale (a song pre-dating the Velvet Underground), the gospel standard "Oh Happy Day", "The X-Files Theme" by Mark Snow, and a free-jazz version of "Amazing Grace".
- Darker and Edgier: Songs in A&E.
- Disability Superpower: Many reviewers have commented that the band's style works and doesn't cross over into Narm because of Pierce's sickly-sounding, imperfect voice.
- Drugs Are Bad: Played straight ("The Straight and the Narrow", others) and averted ("Lay Back in the Sun", others). "Medication" seems comparatively balanced by acknowledging both sides.
- Echoing Acoustics: In The '90s Jason loved drowning lots of things in reverb, especially vocals, synths and guitars. Special notice going to "100 Bars (Accapella)" from Complete Works, which is just Kate counting to 100 (from "200 Bars") with increasing echo and feedback. This has diminished as Jason moved away from the spaceyness.
- Epic Rocking
- From their albums: "Symphony Space", "Take Your Time", "Shine a Light", "Sway", "200 Bars", "Medication", "Electric Mainline", "Pure Phase", "Spread Your Wings", "I Think I'm in Love", "Broken Heart" "Cop Shoot Cop...", "Don't Just Do Something", "Out of Sight", "Won't Get to Heaven (The State I'm In)", "Baby I'm Just a Fool"
- From their live albums:
- Fucked Up Inside: "Medication", "Shine a Light (Clear Light/Clear Rush)"
- Royal Albert Hall: "Shine a Light", "Electric Mainline", "Medication", "Take Your Time", "Come Together", "I Think I'm in Love", "Cop Shoot Cop...", "Oh Happy Day"
- From the Complete Works compilation: "Anyway That You Want Me", "Feel So Sad (Rhapsodies)", "Feel So Sad (Glides and Chimes)", "Effervescent (Chimes)", "Sway", "Medication (from Medication EP)", "Feel So Sad (from Medication EP)", "Electric Mainline" parts 1 and 2, "100 Bars (Flashback)", "Don't Go/Stay With Me", "Broken Heart (instrumental)", "Spread Your Wings (instrumental)", "On Fire (live)", "Amazing Grace (Peace on Earth)", "Do It All Over Again (live)".
- Grief Song: "Broken Heart", "Cool Waves", "Stop Your Crying", etc.
- The Hedonist: Jason, considering 50% of his lyrics are about drugs.
- In a rather hilarious incident, Slowdive went to record material for Souvlaki in a Bath studio that had previously been used by Spiritualized, and found a huge Scalextric model train left in the live room. Neil Halstead snarked that since it took them so long to get it out and the sessions turned out to be unusable, it would've been more productive if they just played with it instead.
- I Am the Band
- Instrumentals: A few ones show up on their 1992-1997 albums, more on the Complete Works compilation.
- Jerkass: Jason's firing of the entire band in 1999 left a bad taste in the mouths of fans.
- Love Triangle: Kate-Jason-Richard Ashcroft. It's a Long Story.
- Lonely Piano Piece: "Harmony 2" from Songs in A&E.
- Limited Special Collector's Ultimate Edition: The band released a remastered and expanded edition of Ladies and Gentlemen in 2009 in three formats: a collector's edition (twelve 3" mini CDs of the complete album track-by-track, plus two bonus discs of unreleased material), a special edition (a limited edition of the original album in the original pill-pack style packaging, alongside the two bonus discs) and the standard one CD version of the original album with new artwork. The aforementioned two bonus discs include original demos, preliminary mixes, isolated tracks from the album's songs (Throw the Dog a Bone for remixers?) and a leftover song, "Rocket Shaped Song".
- Literary Allusion Title: Ladies and Gentlemen's title comes from Sophie's World by Jostein Gaardner.
- Long-Runner Line-up: The current lineup is shaping up to be a Type 2, with the addition of bassist Thomas Wayne in 2009 alongside longtime members John Coxon, Doggen Foster, Kevin Bales and Tom Edwards being the most stable of all of their lineups.
- Loudness War: Ladies and Gentlemen is a bit squished at times, but doesn't clip and remains a dynamic, great production. Let It Come Down and Amazing Grace... well, ignore the last part and worsen the first.
- Lyrical Dissonance: Sometimes the dreamy, ethereal music that clashes with Jason's lyrics about using drugs to cope with his problems.
- Minimalistic Cover Art: All of their covers, as seen from their own discography page.
- Murder Ballad: "Borrowed Your Gun".
- The Muse: Kate Radley in The '90s, making her one of the few people to be this and half of a Creator Couple.
- Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly:
- New Sound Album: Floating in Space, Let It Come Down, Amazing Grace
- Not Christian Rock: Lots of Spiritualized songs feature references to God, generally using the term "Lord". Pierce doesn't appear to be particularly Christian though, and it could be argued that these generally derive from his love of gospel, blues and soul music and his psychedelic, transcendent style. The title of his song "No God Only Religion" probably sums up his attitude best.
- Ode to Intoxication: Both played straight and averted. Once you create a song with the chorus Lay back in the sun/Good dope good fun, it's hard to not be this trope, and once you write a song with the chorus Now the trouble with the straight and the narrow/Is that I keep falling off it's hard not to be Drugs Are Bad.
- Perishing Alt-Rock Voice: Jason, going hand in hand with Dull Surprise.
- Revolving Door Band: 20 members in just shy of 30 years.
- Shout-Out: Pierce frequently inserts references or quotes from tunes he likes into his own songs. "Cop Shoot Cop..." borrows and adapts a few lyrics from "Sam Stone" by John Prine. "She Kissed Me (And It Felt Like a Hit)" is a blatant reference to "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)" by The Crystals. "Run" borrows lyrics from "They Call Me the Breeze" by J.J. Cale, and so on.
- Something Blues: "These Blues"
- Textless Album Cover: Lazer Guided Melodies and Let It Come Down.
- Don't forget Amazing Grace.
- Title Drop: Floating in Space's first track, "Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space", begins with Kate Radley speaking the titular phrase through a telephone.
- The Something Song: "The Slide Song", "Rocket Shaped Song", and the album Songs in A&E.
- Vader Breath: Played for Drama in "Death Take Your Fiddle", off Songs in A&E. The raspy breathing in the background of the song is the sound of someone put under mechanical ventilation.
- Verbal Tic: "Come on!"
- Word Salad Lyrics: Prone to this every once in a while.