It’s both tragic and comforting that, even twenty some years down the line, Jason Pierce is still exorcising many of those same demons that have plagued him through Spiritualized’s run of heart-breaking, soul-scouring records. In 1997 when making their seminal ‘Ladies & Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space’ album, Pierce wanted to use the “Wise men say/ Only fools rush in” portion of Elvis Presley’s Can’t Help Falling In Love on the opening track, only to be blocked by the Presley estate. In recent years Pierce has toured the album with a full orchestra and gospel choir, reinstating the lyric as was his original intention, but it still seems that he just can’t let these things go.
‘And Nothing Hurt’ is Spiritualized’s first record in six years, practically a one-man endeavour by Pierce, laboriously assembled while ensconced in an upstairs room in his home. And it’s a familiar motif that we hear as A Perfect Miracle opens the album; just two notes that instantly recall The King and that track that eluded Pierce all those years ago. From here, it’s largely familiar territory over nine tracks, with the same sonic grandeur and brooding themes that Pierce has dispensed since his time with Spacemen 3, over various line-up changes, and through liver disease and the dose of double pneumonia in 2005 that almost finished him off. Love and death is what we have come to expect from a Spiritualized record, and on album number eight those themes and the melodies that carry them are as refined as they ever were.
On one hand there’s the old Stooges/Stax contrast. Horn-soaked, lilting doo-wop verses face off against the subsequent squeal and urgency of the choruses on I’m Your Man. On the Sunshine takes things even further into the garage, noisy and fuzzed with a false ending breakdown leading into a horn-heavy coda. The Morning After tips a nod to The Velvet Underground, and to Hey Jane on 2012s ‘Sweet Heart Sweet Light’, another track that gets more raucous the further it progresses, dense with horns and guitars; discordant chaos anchored only by the rhythm section.
Here It Comes (The Road) Let’s Go leans more towards country soul, a traditional road song with all those tropes you might expect – lovers travelling to meet, driving through the night, the radio soundtracking the journey (“Take the hill in second gear/ And you can see my house from here/ And the way my heart is beating/ You’ll hear the sound/ It’ll wake the sleeping”). Yet it manages to avoid hackneyed pastiche. It’s too earnest for that, too respectful to the idiom, right up until Pierce offers his lover a line on arrival.
The considerable shadow of Big Star flits over a gorgeous, opiate-paced Let’s Dance (“If they’ve got Big Star on the radio they’ll let us stay/ Oh, September girl/ Come and rule my world and dance”), while Pierce’s own brushes with mortality give The Prize an added weight of poignancy (“Time lends you her shotgun for a while/ Gonna be shooting like a star across the sky/ Gonna burn brightly for a while/ Then you’re gone”). Love and death, no-one does them like J. Spaceman.
From base garage rock to gospel music peaks, Pierce once again lays out the preoccupations of his soul – the losses and the lies, the drugs and the sickness, the allusions to a higher power and the redeeming and ruining qualities of love. With Sail On Through he brings ‘And Nothing Hurt’ to a sombre, soaring finish, its gospel choir backing vocals emphasising the helpless admission: “If I could hold it down/ I would sail on through for you/ If I weren’t loaded down/ I would sail on through for you.” Pierce has hinted that this may be the final Spiritualized album, but surely this sonic explorer isn’t ready to rest just yet, at least not until J Spacemen finally attains what he has spent a lifetime trying to achieve – catharsis through sound.