Release date: September 7, 2018
Label: Fat Possum Records
Producer: Jason Pierce
It’s a sad world, and suffering can’t be avoided. But creatives throughout the ages have found ways of easing the pain of the world through song, dance, painting, and a myriad of other forms. If art does anything for us, it changes our perspective about the passing away of our hopes and dreams, it paints meaning onto the constant change we are all a part of, and gives us hope even as everything we know falls away.
I can still remember hearing Spiritualized for the first time in the movie “Vanilla Sky,” the mind bending 2001 drama that found Tom Cruise questioning his reality in the midst of a love affair with a stunning Penelope Cruz (who was also in the original film “Abre Los Ojos,” of which “Vanilla Sky” was a remake). The moment Cruise realizes the truth about reality and remembers the events of his life is when I first heard the Spiritualized refrain: “All I want in life is a little bit of love to take away the pain.”
The song, of course, was the title track from the space rock epic “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space” that Spiritualized put out in 1997. Recognized by many critics as one of the landmark albums of the 90s, the 12-track album garnered almost universal praise, receiving a 10/10 from Pitchfork and 5/5 stars from The Guardian.
Built on elaborate instrumentation and a symphonic arrangements from Spiritualized’s creative force Jason Pierce, the album sounded like nothing ever made before, making full, maximal use of its musical elements to craft a devastating emotional web of sound. As a young teenager, I felt the music had the cathartic effect on me of a morphine drip, both easing my pain and transforming it into a sublime process of enlightenment. The pain was part of the joy of being alive
Now, in 2018, Pierce has come out with what may be his last release. “And Nothing Hurt” is his eighth studio album as Spiritualized, and extends his symphonic vision of youthful pain and angst. A few things have changed – now the singer is older and a bit wiser, which means his sorrowful refrains have been toned down a bit, and the pain has become something more easily dealt with.
In “On The Sunshine,” an exorcism of Pierce’s Brit-rock roots, dares to come off as positive through his snarling lyrics: “And in the evening / Take it easy / You can always do tomorrow / What you cannot do today.” As the song builds into guitar feedback and an overly complicated, cacophonous choir of sounds including the squeal of an overeager trumpet or saxophone, Pierce repeats “Take it easy” over and over, seeming to find a sort of confident stoicism to counteract the chaos of life.
Pierce’s talent as a maximal arranger of pop songs is still very evident on “And Nothing Hurt.” If you’ve enjoyed his work before, you’ll probably find yourself basking in all the little details of each song, like the subtle movements of instrumental parts near the end of “Damaged,” where guitar riffs and strings interact with each other perfectly, flowing in and out inside an expert production.
“A Perfect Miracle” is also a great example of Pierce’s singular talents. He has a knack for working a song into full emotional bliss, turning a grumbling, sad track into a reach for the wonder of the blue sky and perfect day spent in the sun. Whether that’s overlaying vocal lines or fusing strings and electronics, he’s got the experience and the touch to make it happen.
“Sail on Through” is probably the best song on the album, successfully channeling the melancholic symphony of sound that hit so hard on “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space:”
“Say no more, say no less
You know you took it all but you wanted less
I came on down i gave it all
You know best love lies before the fall”
Though the album doesn’t reach the heights of some of the previous works of Spiritualized, “And Nothing Hurt” is a beautiful journey through the head of one the best pop songwriters of the last few decades. Just to be able to soar through the sadness so easily and well is a treat to enjoy.