A minor miracle of construction, there’s the impression that every sound here was percolating in Jason “J Spaceman” Pierce’s head Brian Wilson-style long before it was captured on tape
If you want to describe Spiritualized’s new album in one word – perhaps you’re playing a parlour game broadsheet music reviewer’s birthday party, or talking to a 14-year-old who skips the “boring intro” on a 90-second TikTok video – that word would be “layered”. Every song on Everything Was Beautiful is beautifully put together, and there always seems to be another part to discover, another sound to pick out of the dense arrangements, another overdub to unearth somewhere in the depths of the mix.
The record is a minor miracle of construction, and you get the impression that every sound was percolating in Jason “J Spaceman” Pierce’s head Brian Wilson-style long before it was captured on tape (especially once you discover that this album uses material from 11 different studios plus Pierce’s home recordings). However, this intense layering is also the album’s Achilles heel, and there are times when the music feels over-rich and stodgy, like a nightmare where you’re trying to run but are mired ankle-deep in suet and old Rolling Stones records.
The cover features pharmacological art by Mark Farrow harking back directly to Ladies & Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space – and why not, it is one of the greatest sleeves of the 1990s after all – and in the opening moments you might fear that this album is simply a direct beat-for-beat retread of Spiritualized’s most famous record, like a Tubular Bells II for the melancholically medicated. The album begins with a direct analogue to Ladies & Gentlemen’s title track, with a sultry female whispering the album’s title, some quiet space bleeps and one of those stately, Pachelbel-flavoured circling chord sequences that come with a strong whiff of pained self-pity. Thankfully, this is just to ease us in gently, and the track soon shows its own character, ratcheting into a thunking, reverby hymnal paean like an overweight Phil Spector backing track, behind which a lovely miasma of strings swirls and eddies. The lyrics adapt the hoary old Brill building “I’ll be whatever you want” formula, with lines like “If you want a radio, I would be a radio for you”, which get the point across (although you can’t take this stuff seriously once you’ve heard The Divine Comedy’s parody on If…).
A good few years ago, in his movie column, Nick Lowe – no, not that one – posited that Hollywood scientists were hard at work, trying to create a film constructed entirely of endings. As well as turning out to be incredibly prescient of our era of multi-movie adaptations of single books, and apparently infinitely expanding Marvel narratives which constantly climax yet never actually conclude, it’s a handy description of the average Spiritualized track. Most of the songs on this album seem to exist purely as delivery systems for extended outros, from the Lou Reed chug of Best Thing You Never Had, with a delightful beery trombone solo, to the bluesy trudge of Let It Bleed, to the drunken duck sax blurt freak-out that constitutes two-thirds of The A Song (Laid In Your Arms), and which sounds gloriously like three Art Ensemble Of Chicago tracks playing at once. Mainline, the album’s high point, just sounds like a long coda to a song that’s been edited out, an organic and euphoric moment built on some simple melodic material including the delicious Beach Boys purr of a bass harmonica.
The album’s title might reference “everything was beautiful and nothing hurt”, a line from Kurt Vonnegut’s pacifist sci-fi novel Slaughterhouse-Five. Whilst Vonnegut’s hero was “unstuck in time”, Spiritualized are very much the opposite, each song taking a fragment of pop history – a dewy-eyed Patsy Cline melody, a Velvet Underground lick, a ‘70s gospel horn refrain – and sticking to it, repeating and developing it until the tape runs out (or the drugs wear off). It’s as strong an approach as it ever was, and if nothing on Everything Was Beautiful feels truly essential to anyone with the Spiritualized back catalogue, it’s also a glowing example of their aesthetic. As the Arvo Pärt strings and mournful tolling bell at the end of I’m Coming Home Again fade away, you’ll be happy to go back and start listening to all these endings once again.