Dripping with hope and optimism.
Of all the British bands to never be properly imported to the States, Spiritualized is perhaps the one most deserving of widespread American acclaim. Though the band have never been an unknown, they’ve remained primarily an indie darling for most people throughout their 20+ year reign. What little acclaim they’ve gotten has come thanks in part to bandleader/sole permanent member Jason Pierce’s preternatural ability to combine psych-rock chaos with gospel choir vocals and Britpop layering. It’s easy to wonder how big of a hit the landmark Ladies & Gentlemen We are Floating in Space would have been had it not been released the same exact day as another British band’s great leap forward. Despite their lack of widespread recognition and adoration, however, the band have managed to achieve a level of consistency strong enough that even their weakest records (looking at you, Amazing Grace) sound like triumphs that far surpass every other band attempting the same thing.
To the undiscerning ear, And Nothing Hurt, Spiritualized’s eighth—and potentially final—album doesn’t sound like a triumph. Though it bears moments that swell and burst with the best songs from Songs in A&E or Sweet Heart Sweet Light, it has a much softer, gentler edge than the band’s previous albums. Sure, all of the trademarks are here: gospel vocals, occasional moments of instrumental freakouts and Pierce’s lethargic vocals. But Nothing doesn’t want to send Spiritualized off with a crash and a bang, but rather with a patient collection of songs that aren’t as much trips through Pierce’s psyche as they are trips through his longest-running sonic fascinations.
This is no half-assed work, though: throughout, it’s clear that Pierce has chosen to strip away his autobiographical streak in favor of songcrafting economy. While this current streak means there’s nothing inventive about the album, this isn’t some fatal flaw: if you’re making one last record, you needn’t expand your sonic landscape; rather, you need to tighten it.
And tighten Pierce has. You won’t find bells and whistles here, no high-concept song structures. It’s reductive to say it’s just a collection of songs, but in creating a collection of songs devoid of any kind of concept, the band has actually made it easier for repeated listens to pass without blinking an eye. Right off the bat, they seem content to make this obvious: opener “Perfect Miracle” swells in a way reminiscent of “Ladies & Gentlemen We are Floating in Space,” but instead of singing about wanting love (or dope) to take the pain away, Pierce is dreaming of stars that spell out “Darling, I love you.” His placid, potentially-at-peace voice is stronger than ever, though “On the Sunshine” is the closest he comes to actually yelling.
Throughout, Pierce is characteristically self-deprecating and funny: “I could be faithful, honest and true/ Holding my heart for you/ Dependable all down the line/ Devoted all the time/ But if you want wasted, loaded, perman”ently folded, doing the best that he can, I’m your man, he sings on “I’m Your Man.” Later, on “Let’s Dance,” he pares the boredom portrayed in these songs down even further: “There’s better things, y’know, a lonely rock ‘n’ roller can do.” Despite this, though, the lyrics are the sole weak spot on the album. Lines like “I’d catch the wind and have it blow all my kisses to you/ I’d take the birds and teach them all the words to every love song I know,” are sweet, but they lack the bite seen on previous records. However, little moments of inky blackness creep in, unannounced and unexplained, every once in a while: “She only got a couple of worries/ Gotten out of hand and/ When she tells her doctors that/ They never understand.”
What is lacking in lyrical heft, though, is more than made up for with technical prowess and genius song structures. And Nothing Hurt is no less densely layered than any other Spiritualized release. More than 20 different session musicians in 10 different studio spaces helped Pierce to meticulously plan And Nothing Hurt and bring it to life. Lush, sunny arrangements make every song feel grand in its own way, from the ecstatic (“On the Sunshine”) to the subdued (“The Prize”) to somewhere in between (“Here It Comes (The Road) Let’s Go”). This is a sound that fits well in both concert halls and sweaty rock clubs, but still demand listens through headphones to pick up on everything laid before you.
On closer “Sail On Through,” Pierce lets out one last funny line that helps to underscore his potential inner peace: “I’ll tell no lie/ I’ll tell the truth/ Y’know I just don’t need/ To be with you.” If And Nothing Hurt is to be Jason Pierce’s last statement as Spiritualized, he’s done well to end things not with a triumphant explosion, but with a satisfying crescendo. Nothing about the album is over-the-top or grandiose, settling instead for beautiful, sweeping wall-of-sound work dripping with hope and optimism with which to send us off.