There is but one album left to go. If you grew up in the nineties and are disappointed in the omission of albums by Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Wilco, and Radiohead etc., well, those albums are just not quite as important to me in retrospect. In any case, here’s my top album of the nineties.
One) Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating In Space – Spiritualized (1997)
1997 was the year of Radiohead’s OK Computer, so like everybody else, I went on to proclaim OK Computer as the best thing ever. Granted, OK Computer was a very good record, but it also subsequently turned Radiohead into nothing more than Thom Yorke’s electronic playground, with increasingly fussier production and a growing detachment from the human warmth that endear them to fans in the first place. Then again, perhaps OK Computer was an oracle of sorts, accurately predicting a detached society where everyone is far more enamored with their smartphones than with the company they are keeping.
In retrospect, the best album of ’97 and of that decade should have been Spiritualized’s Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating In Space. The title of the album was taken from a relatively obscure Norwegian novel, Sophie’s World, and provided the album with one of the most distinctive openings – that of Kate Radley intoning “Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space”.
You probably have heard the story before. Kate Radley and Jason Pierce were a couple before Kate Radley secretly married Richard Ashcroft from the Verve (which Spiritualized supported in a tour), just prior to the recording of Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating In Space. Seriously, the drama unfolding in the British music scene is sometimes stranger than the soap operas you see on the telly. Jason Pierce has since denied that the album was about his break-up with Kate Radley. Whatever the case was, the authentic heartbreak as experienced on the album can only come from a deep, dark place inside, and as a result, there is a timelessness to the whole affair.
“All I want in life is a little bit of love to take the pain away”
As Jason Pierce’s vulnerable and pained vocals come in while gentle guitar washes over you, you can’t help but empathize with the man’s plight. It is amazing how easily Ladies and Gentlemen can conjure up memories of that particular time in your life and remind you of that person you use to be. The futility of a failing relation was a recurring motif and was revisited quickly in Stay With Me, where Pierce implored his lover to stay and Broken Heart, which painted a fragile picture of the broken hearted with an alluring mix of organs, violins and horns.
“And I’m wasted all the time
I’ve gotta drink you right off of my mind
I’ve been told that this will heal given time
Lord I have a broken heart”
Elsewhere, the album shifted gear into jazz-influenced territories, with saxophone parts featuring prominently in Come Together and I Think I Am In Love. As much as the songs were personal remedies of the soul (with the album art made to look like prescription drugs), there was a great deal of craftsmanship in the bulk of the songs. These were not run-of-the-mill sad pop songs. Electricity was an unexpected dollop of garage rock while No God, Only Religion was a funk-inspired astral jam that was not unwelcome on this album. Cop Shoot Cop was one of those tracks that can only be pulled off in the ‘90s – a 17 minute exploration of sound that Sonic Youth would be envious of.
The gospel-backed Cool Waves hinted at things to come in the near future, where Jason Pierce would fashion himself into a space rock preacher of sorts. Let It Come Down and Amazing Grace were good albums in their own right, but the emotional turmoil, wild ambition and reinterpretation of age-old genres on Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space made it the most vital aural document of the nineties.