Spiritualized And Nothing Hurt

[Fat Possum/Bella Union; 2018]

Styles: outer space
Others: the first seven Spiritualized albums

“More than one person has said I’ve been writing the same song all my life,” Jason Pierce recently told The New York Times. Though proffered as self-criticism, this remark serves more as a testament to the astonishing consistency of Pierce’s songwriting through Spiritualized’s nearly 30-year run. Since 1990, there have been only two constants in the band’s universe: Pierce has always been at its center, and every album they have released has been excellent.

Spiritualized’s lineup is notoriously unstable — it has featured a rotating cast of nearly 20 members in total, not counting session musicians — but And Nothing Hurts is the first album that Pierce recorded solo. Citing money problems, he recorded the majority of it in his bedroom on his laptop. Chasing a studio sound similar to classic Columbia and Capitol albums, Pierce strummed along to classical records, locating and sampling string sounds chord by chord until he could build the tracks himself. Only later did he hire session musicians to play the instruments he couldn’t play or sample. The process drove him nearly to despair — he stated multiple times during the recording that this would be the final Spiritualized album.

Not that you would know any of this by listening. And Nothing Hurts is a big album, grandly ambitious and sonically expansive. The riotous climaxes of “On the Sunshine” and “The Morning After” do nothing to belie their bedroom-pop origins; meanwhile, more subdued tracks like “Perfect Miracle” and “Sail On Through” benefit from the intimate atmosphere in which they were recorded. Pierce can somehow have it both ways, summoning the panoramic scope appropriate to his outer-space motif and then reducing the scale back down to that of an intimate conversation.

The key to this trick is his voice. Pierce’s voice includes in it all the heartbreak and resignation of a lifetime, though he’s only 53. On previous albums, there was a ready cause for his distressed croon: breaking up his previous band (Lazer Guided Melodies), drug abuse and a difficult breakup (Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space), almost dying (Songs in A&E), almost dying again (Sweet Heart Sweet Light). This time around, it seems as though the sheer effort put into the album, and perhaps the sheer effort necessary to be an artist in 2018, has inflected his performance. “Though I’m tired just sitting here singing for you / There’s better things, you know, a lonely rock and roller can do,” he sings on “Let’s Dance.” One can imagine him pondering the end of Spiritualized, alone in his apartment, singing such lines.

Pierce’s repeated claims that this would be his final album, paired with the recent retrospective tour in commemoration of Ladies and Gentlemen’s 20th anniversary, makes this seem like an apposite occasion to reflect on Spiritualized’s tenure. In its various incarnations, the band has celebrated the history of rock & roll while pushing insistently at its limits. You know just where you are when you put on a Spiritualized album, though you don’t know where you’ll end up. And Nothing Hurt would make a fitting cap on their career, encapsulating as it does so many of the band’s hallmarks. And yet, Pierce has begun to change his tune, noting that the sessions produced a few additional tracks that he can’t see not releasing in the future.

Of course, Pierce has been writing the same song his whole life — it’s a damn good song. Let’s hope to hear more of it.

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