Spacemen 3 - Playing with fire (1989)

Posted by Amelia Swhizzagers On 1:57 AM

Jason ‘Spaceman’ Pierce and Pete ‘Sonic Boom’ Kember -- two men that had a great deal of influence over the independent music scene in the mid to late 80s. Born on the same day in the same hospital in Rugby, Great Britain – the duo seemed to share a united gift for creating the most blistering, acid-soaked rock’n’roll since Iggy and his Stooges had thrown the towel in. Since they finally came to blows with the recording of Spacemen 3’s swan song Recurring (which was split equally between Pierce and Kember’s songs), Kember has stayed true to character – forming his Spectrum project, and Pierce has gone on to find international fame as the front man of Space-Rockers Spiritualized.

Back in 1989 though, the duo (along with future Spiritualized bass player Will Carruthers) managed to create perhaps the most complete conceptualisation of their grand vision. As Kember noted in the liner notes “Luckily we had always thrived on adversity, and our experience served to focus us on the purity of our musical quest. I guess it was also the refining point of a lot of my theories on minimalism being maximalism, ‘hypno-monotony’ (consciousness change via repetition)”. They had an agenda for pushing simple, revolving melodies, either minimal in their approach, or filtered through a wall of guitar distortion and reverb to leave the listener draped in sound, where the most minor variation seems like a revolution.Starting quietly with subtle, reversed delay, flanged organ and hushed vocals on both Kember’s “Honey” and Pierce’s “Come Down Softly To My Soul”, they represent the veritable calm before the storm erupts. Pierce follows closely to his guitar melody, even giving air for some guest violin during the trailing guitar solo. Things come to a climactic conclusion initially with the sombre “How Does It Feel?”. The most minimalist of tracks on the album, starting with a monologue from Kember, then two gentle guitar lines (one for melody and a second pulsating, reverberant riff that drives the songs rhythm) that gradually grow and build over the songs’ 8 minutes.

The album continues to ebb and flow, finally delving into a full paced wall of sound with the aptly titled ‘Revolution’. A single chord guitar drone highlighted by primal drumming, Kember’s snarling vocals and positively chaotic lead guitar – thoroughly engorged with distortion. Kember announces ‘It takes just 5 seconds of decision, that the time is right, to start thinking about a little revolution’, and lets forth with his guitar fury. Reminiscent of Ron Asherton’s finest moments for the Stooges, Carruther’s Bass adds a layer of groove to one of the albums’ most engaging numbers. Though Kember has a succinct, authoritative approach to vocals (often spoken or in a monotone drawl), its Pierce who demonstrates the most dynamic vocal approach with the softly sung ‘So hot (wash away all of my tears)’. The album places heartfelt, building, and graceful songs between their moments of sheer sonic assault – resulting in a breathing, dramatic album that pulls at the heart-strings them blows them all away.

That clincher comes with the epic ‘Suicide’ – another drone based guitar freak-out (that is captured on the reissue in both its studio inclination and with a stunning live performance). An instrumental track based along a drone, a revolving organ line, shuffling drums and the occasional splash of lead guitar (that often follows the organ line) – it seems perfect instep with the flange and tremolo effects that texture the sonic mayhem. As the song develops, you start to notice all sorts of sounds coming into play, evolving in and out of the sound – the bass seems highly present through out the second half of the song, and organ patterns seem to come and go. Things come to a climax late in the song as each musician locks in on the organs stop-start rhythm, building a stew of guitar, bass and organ that pulsates until the songs eventual decent into unguided feedback.

The album serves as a document for all that has come after. ‘Lord can you here me when I call’ is perhaps the clearest connection. Pierce developing his thematic, gospel approach to self-realisation lyrics and song dynamics, a cacophony of horns, strings and the inevitable wall of guitars that characterises his later-day Spiritualized releases. Thoroughly engrossing, and utterly indulgent, the reissue adds a number of tracks. Taken from Stylus
1. Honey
2. Come Down Softly to My Soul
3. How Does It Feel?
4. I Believe It
5. Revolution
6. Let Me Down Gently
7. So Hot (Wash Away All of My Tears)
8. Suicide
9. Lord Can You Hear Me?

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