Jason Pierce, the mastermind behind Spiritualized, has always had a knack for stamping his own sonic identity onto his recordings, from the opening bars to the closing swells of synths. It takes approximately twelve seconds of the opening track – the second you hear his voice – before you realise that this is it: you’re inside another Spiritualized record.
The fact that it even sounds like a finished record is a miracle, really. The tapes of the original demos and recordings were allegedly held ‘hostage’ by the producer Youth (bassist in Killing Joke, mate of Paul McCartney), forcing Pierce to abandon any notion of a budget for recording. This act of sabotage forced him to record it, for the most part, in a room in his house. He used sporadic studio sessions to record the instruments that were proving just too difficult to capture at home.
Fortunately for his listeners, he’s never strayed too far from what he does incredibly well – in a studio or in room in his house. No matter what the environment, or issues around the recording of each and every album he ever makes, Pierce always manages to infuse every record with microdoses of incredibly potent flavours: Take Lazer Guided Melodies and its shimmering, shoegaze-y drones, or Ladies and Gentlemen… and its operatic grandeur. It’s always the same, but always slightly different.
Opener “Perfect Miracle” brings in a sun-dried tropical flavour (by way of swaying rhythm and ukulele chime) to Pierce’s usual somnambulist pop, which makes utter, complete sense. It’s a warm, comforting way to open what is a warm, comforting record. The opener alone is like watching Elvis’ Blue Hawaii on smack.
This kind of drug-cocktail warmth and the sense of medically-induced euphoria has given every Spiritualized record a hazy, foggy glow. You’ll find it here on “Sail on Through” and “The Prize”. The minimal, hymn-like qualities of songs like those help support the notion that it’s impossible to finish a Spiritualized record feeling more angry or anxious than when you went in. It’s just not the kind of music to make you break stuff, or ferociously copulate, or want to do, well, anything really.
Second track - and album highlight - “I’m Your Man” deftly experiments with the late-'60s orchestral pomp of The Beatles, which Pierce has lovingly talked about in prior interviews. While there’s never been any dispute about Pierce’s sonic antecedents, “I’m Your Man” really plays to the spot in the Venn diagram where his influences meet his strengths. He always manages to find the sweet spot at some point on all of his records.
The mid-'60s twang and grind of “The Morning After” lift the album from its stoned torpor, becoming the most memorable track on the record save “I’m Your Man”. There are some beautiful church bells that close out “Let’s Dance” (not that one), and some sci-fi synth whistles on “On the Sunshine”, which only add to the sense of wonder on this thing.
This being a Spiritualized record, you should know exactly what to expect. Unless you’re one of the few fans that didn’t enjoy Amazing Grace, you’ll almost certainly love what you’re hearing too.
The only minor gripe that you could have with the project is that it’s nowhere near as vital as Pierce’s recent collaborative record with Föllakzoid. That felt like experimentation for art’s sake, with stupefying results. And Nothing Hurt, at its worst, feels like he’s playing it safe.
Pierce’s work is incredibly hard to try and judge objectively, because of his track record of consistency. At this stage of his career, he’s unlikely to make anything less than superb, and you know this going into the record. Such a fantastic career, with few flaws in terms of the quality of records he’s produced, only serves to distance you from what you might have said about it if you heard it in isolation.
That said, this is one of his better ones. Possibly.