Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Come Down Softly To My Soul: A Few Words About A Few Spacemen 3 Reissues

In the very near-future, the fine folks at the fine Superior Viaduct label are going to be offering up a bunch of Spacemen 3 reissues. For lots of you, this material is stuff you're familiar with. For lots more, it's stuff that you probably have on some format, but which you now want on vinyl. Whatever the reason for your attraction to these releases, these records are some of the best proto-shoegaze offerings from an era when indie rock in the U.K. was lurching through the diminishing C86 wave, and about to crash into another one, with bands like My Bloody Valentine and Spacemen 3 at the helm of the ship.

Originally released in 1990 or so, Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To is a collection of demos from the early days of the band, when Jason Pierce and Peter Kember were finding their way, and before Spacemen 3 settled into being the garage-y outfit found on records like The Perfect Prescription. Tracks here bristle with life, with numbers like "The Sound of Confusion" and "Come Down Easy" serving in these versions as rough templates for the longer, more out there editions that were released later on subsequent Spacemen 3 albums. The sharp brutalism of "Amen" is the V.U.-style of drone rock reduced to its most basic elements, a shadow of "No Fun" by Iggy and crew casting itself over the track as well. Elsewhere, "Things'll Never Be The Same" rips things up, while the eerily-lovely "Transparent Radiation (Organ Version)" sees a familiar number from the band's catalog in its earliest, purest form.

The essential Playing With Fire from 1989 finds Spacemen 3 riding between musical poles that suggest pure bliss ("Come Down Softly To My Soul") and the start of an anarchic uprising ("Revolution"). What's here from Sonic Boom (Peter Kember) and the guy who'd form Spiritualized (Jason Pierce) is the melange of the sounds that both musicians would unveil in other outlets later. At their best here, like on the brief "I Believe It", one can hear the very sound that Bobby Gillespie would use as the basis for his best tracks on the Screamadelica album some time later, or, on "Honey", the kind of thing that suggests what bands like Slowdive and The Telescopes would pursue in the years after the release of Playing With Fire. And to say that is to acknowledge that this release is indeed that seminal to the entire genre. Kember and Pierce may have been on the outs here but what's on the record is remarkably coherent and cohesive. This remains one of the great, underrated shoegaze records.

Recurring from 1991 is an album I didn't really like back then but which I sort of appreciate now. Of a piece with the sort of band-simplifying-their-sound-approach found on the self-titled Love and Rockets album from 1989, Recurring sees the sonic attack of Spacemen 3 polished and refined to its simplistic core. Gone are the Nuggets-style work-outs from earlier releases, and in their place are gems like the spacious and space-y "Hypnotized" and similar numbers that foreshadow what Pierce would do on the best Spiritualized records, and Kember would do on those Sonic Boom releases. Still, for the moments that shine here, there's stuff like the lengthy and unwieldy "Big City (Everyone I Know Can Be Found Here)", a 10-minute trip through the detritus of acid summer in England, that is far less successful for being too of its era.

The very essence of the sound of Spacemen 3, and, as such, some of the building blocks of an entire genre of music in England and elsewhere, Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To, Playing With Fire, and Recurring make the collective case for the continuing importance of Spacemen 3, and, by extension, the genius of Peter Kember (Sonic Boom, J. Spaceman) and Jason Pierce (Spiritualized). The records remain expansive, near-visionary listening experiences.

Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To, Playing With Fire, and Recurring are all out this week via the Superior Viaduct label.