Space is a place of inconceivable vastness and limitless possibility – rendering all dramas, disappointments, and dissonance of human existence as triviality. Perhaps this explains the fixation that Jason Pierce, the man at the helm of English alternative rock band Spiritualized, has with the celestial realm. At the age of 52, Pierce can look back on a turbulent life, marred with heartbreak, drug-abuse and a recent, life-threatening stint with pneumonia. Through it all however, he escaped to the stars with Spiritualized. For years, the outfit tunnelled their own musical passage into the deepest dimensions of space, captivating listeners along the way with their unique psychedelic style.
If the past discography of Spiritualized compares to a voyage through space, then And Nothing Hurt is the aftermath. Pierce emerges as a man enlightened, accepting of his flaws, yet still grappling with how to move forward with such imperfections. Opening track “A Perfect Miracle” eases the listener into his contemplation, as Pierce lets the sunshine seep in with light strums of ukulele and dabbles of lustrous synth. With soft croonings of lyrics such as “take the stars and line them up to spell darling I love you,” the warmth of the track almost conceals the foreboding turn it eventually takes. “Darling you know I’m sorry,” Pierce apologises, knowing that if his flawed self were to fulfil this romantic ideal, it would be nothing short of a miracle.
Spiritualized have always specialised in larger-than-life production, pushing stunning layers of synths, strings, and rock to epic heights. It’s a style that offers a better sense of fulfilment amongst the often heart-breaking themes that Pierce delivers. Second track “I’m Your Man” is perfect example. As spurts of electric guitar melt into walks of organs and horns, Pierce muses over his potential to be “faithful, honest and true,” instead casting it away with a stomping chorus of what reality knows him as. “If you wanted wasted faded, uneducated, doing the best that he can, I’m your man.” They’re lyrics that could have been pulled from a slacker rock anthem, but Pierce is no slacker. He’s a master of seamlessly blending gospel, orchestral, shoegaze and Americana into blissful intervals of sonic exploration.
Through the first two singles, Pierce makes clear impression of the deeply flawed, but hopeful man that he is. Third track, “Here It Comes (The Road) Let’s Go”, marks his attempt to go forward. Over warbling synths and rich horns, organic twangs of organic guitar throw in a sense of nostalgia, bringing to mind the bluesy pop-rock sensibilities of Fleetwood Mac. The gentle joy carries on to its follow up, “Let’s Dance”. The track builds patiently, with tinkling keys adorning layers of shining synth, as Pierce’s tender vocals float gently above. Paying no attention to the “coming dawn” that beckons, Pierce sounds at peace, as he focuses on the simple joy of the present moment, his humility only highlighted as the grand symphony crescendos around him.
Through “On The Sunshine”, Pierce returns to his rock orientation, rollicking with crashing, motoric production and fuzzy, reverbed guitar. The track is upbeat and energetic as its name suggests, harbouring a reckless abandonment that take form through the unhinged sax solo, wonky synth and sharp-tongued lyrics. Next, “Damaged” emerges as a more bluesy, minimal number – and something of a comedown from the wildness of “On The Sunshine”. Musically, the song swoons gently with floating synths and subtle drums. The lyrics however, offer little but sadness. Pierce almost sighs each word of “darlin’ I’m lost, and I’m damaged over you,” as he reflects on the collateral damage that results from commitment to another person, and in true Spiritualized fashion, his desire to escape.
The beautifully somber mood draws to a close with “The Morning After”, which returns to the explosive space of “On The Sunshine”. The track sees Pierce offer his advice elsewhere, with a bouncing bassline and staccato riffs. The song bears an obvious resemblance to the track “Hey Jane” from the outfit’s previous record. The song is an interruption in the series of Pierce’s introspective musings, as he instead offers his advice on living with the realities of “the modern world,” to a third party with a refreshing assurance.
As the record draws to a close, it becomes clear that Pierce has reached a sense of clarity, though it is not necessarily pleasant. He grapples with a grim reality through the heart-wrenching ballad, “The Prize”. Amongst the mesmerising mix of baroque pop and soul, the vocal delivery is whispered and weary, as Pierce confesses his doubts about love and whether it is really “the prize” it is promised to be. It paints an image of Pierce as lonely and abandoned, yet too disturbed to re-enter the ring. Closing track “Sail On Through”, appears to be the answer to this dilemma. The track breathes escapism with a full gospel accompanying Pierce in his gorgeous farewell. He admits with stark sincerity, “I just don’t need to be with you,” as elegant strings, rich streaks of guitar and souring synths radiate beneath.
The juxtaposition of pain and beauty is present all throughout And Nothing Hurt, as Pierce pairs his contemplations with truly ethereal composition, so vast that it engulfs the listener in its scope. In presence of such soulful symphony, it is impossible to be weighed down by the subtle bereftness within Pierce’s lyrics. It perhaps explains why Pierce chose to pull the record’s title from a quote from Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse-Five, which in full reads, “Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt.”
And Nothing Hurt is released Friday 7th September via Bella Union/Fat Possum Records.