Review: Spiritualized’s ‘Everything Was Beautiful’ is their best since ‘Ladies and gentlemen’
Jason Pierce has been making the same album for over three decades. This is not a criticism. He found his calling -- mixing blues, gospell, and Velvet Underground-style psychedelia into orchestral grandeur -- while still in Spacemen 3 and has been spinning variations on the theme as Spiritualized ever since. Often the results are brilliant (Lazer Guided Melodies, Ladies and gentlemen...), and sometimes he's lost in space (Amazing Grace), but Pierce continues to find inspiration in the same musical motifs and themes.
Everything Was Beautiful is one of the brilliant ones. The album boldly evokes Spiritualized's 1997 masterwork Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space, from its prescription meds artwork to its recording (using studios all over the world with dozens of musicians), to the way it opens with a female voice whispering the album's title, sounding like a transmission from the third ring of Saturn. (In this case it's his daughter, Poppy.) In doing so, you get the sense he knew how good this one was, and it more than holds up to the comparison.
The album opens with "Always Together WIth You," starting as if it was going to be one of his gentle love song lullabies -- "If you walk the galaxies, I would walk the galaxies with you / If you’ll be my lonely girl, I would be a lonely boy for you" -- as satellite pings bounce among the gently strummed guitars and Pierce's hushed vocals. But then the chorus hits and the song cracks wide, shining like a thousand suns with a gospel choir and full orchestra, horns blaring, timpani drums pounding and rocketship whooshes.
Interestingly, this was originally planned as a double album along with the songs released as 2018's ...And Nothing Hurt. His label, Fat Possum, convinced him to release it as two albums and he finished the other first and continued to work on this one through the first year of the pandemic. Together, "Everything Was Beautiful, and Nothing Hurt" is a quote from Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five. “It was an arbitrary split,” Pierce told The Quietus' Piers Martin. “It wasn’t like, ‘Oh I’ll keep these’ or ‘these songs fit well together’. The songs that appeared on …And Nothing Hurt were just further down the road than these ones.
It may have been arbitrary, and as good as ...And Nothing Hurt is, Everything Was Beautiful has the stronger batch of songs with bigger and better production. Pierce sounds both confident and content, if not downright happy, and the joy beams out of your speakers. It's a near perfect, seven-song, single-album distillation of each of the planets within Jason Pierce's solar system: bluesy struts ("Best Thing You Never Had [The D Song]" and "The A Song [Laid In Your Arms]"), cinemascope waltzes ("Let It Bleed [For Iggy]"), twangy country ballads (Nikki Lane duet "Crazy"), pure swaying sunshine (the wonderful "The Mainline Song"), and knockout showstoppers (the skronky closer, "I'm Coming Home Again").
At a tight 44 minutes, Pierce has made an album of all highs. The past-tense of "was" in the title puts just the right amount of cloud cover on this record (and keeps you from thinking of cheesy '70s country), but make no mistake: Spiritualized haven't sounded this present, and beautiful, in 25 years.
Pick up Spiritualized albums on vinyl in the BV shop.