Spiritualized - Lazer Guided Melodies

WELL IT'S been a long, strange trip, but the promise has been fulfilled. Jason Pierce, astral arbiter of faith, dope and clarity, has taken a break from thumbing through his classic albums and come damn close to making one.

There's awesome, cool dignity here, a depth and scope far beyond rock's normal parameters, and an abiding faith in the redemptive power of music which can embrace both consoling murmurs and euphoric surges. 'Lazer Guided Melodies', pretension magnet though it is, is a spellbinding experience.

And who would've thought Jason could pull it off? After all, Sonic Boom always seemed to be the more gifted creative half of Spacemen 3, and, the wonderful 'Feel So Sad' apart, Spiritualized's quartet of singles have been too reliant on cover versions to signal a magnum opus on this scale. 'Lazer Guided Melodies', however, clearly has been conceived as an organic whole, to be broken up as little as possible (only three songs have surfaced previously, in different versions); a theory corroborated by the CD's 12 tracks being divided into four programmed movements. Don't dip in, don't play around, is the artistically pure sub-text. It's all or nothing with this one. Does it all sound too serious? Perhaps it is. 'Lazer Guided Melodies' is engrossing, often solemn and, despite myriad uplifting crescendoes, light years away from the frivolous norm. If all rock music followed a similar model, the NME would run a weekly column on transcendental meditation and the world would sleep for 23 hours of the day. But, since so few plot such a determinedly tangential path (My Bloody Valentine's calculated fuzz is a distant relative), we can treat this as a magnificent respite.

R Hunter Gibson, in his sleevenotes, successfully nails the point: "The tunes are what the title says. They're mostly not like pop songs and they're not in standard English." Indeed, the deployment of horns and strings, the melodic ambition and breadth of vision, point to an affinity with classical music. But, unlike execrable '70s variations on a similar theme, there's no hint of pomposity; if one element of conventional rock has been retained, it's the tense, arrogant attitude. Perhaps, if John Cale had brought a swaggering, symphonic past to The Velvet Underground as well as his interest in the precise repetition of modern systems music, they'd have touched these territories.

All that said, the first half of 'Lazer Guided Melodies' is made to look pretty straight by the second. The new versions of 'I Want You' and 'Run' and 'If I Were With Her Now' come closest to sweaty old rock music, and are three of the few tracks that maintain the hoary tradition of drumming. For the most part, rhythm and melody are inseparable, as the measured guitar lines, ascending organ passages and phased vocals ebb, flow and gradually build their own momentum.

'If I Were With Her Now' is particularly astounding, as a choppy, propulsive riff is underpinned by a spangling dulcimer, Jason's low-down, detached vocals and strung-out gurgling. In common with much of the album, it manages to be utterly clinical, arranged and mixed to a pristine extreme, and still - like, perhaps, 'Pet Sounds' - be profoundly affecting.

After the glides and chimes ambience of 'Symphony Space', the second half fires off into stunning, epic orbit. 'Take Your Time' takes a stealthy, undulating base, stretches it, adds bluesy flecks of guitar and piano, and creates a complex, absorbing dirge. 'Shine A Light' and 'Angel Sigh' are more celebratory: the former drifts along like wayward Pink Floyd before soaring to a white-out, controlled chaos finale; while the latter balances Jason's hazy, lustful musings with crashing power charges. Phenomenal.

The familiar 'Sway' is less tempestuous, artful and shimmering, and the final '200 Bars' sees Kate Radley counting through the bars (as previewed on the NME exclusive sampler's '100 Bars'), before Jason, relatively excitedly, bursts in and with an ambiguous "I'm gonna lose my thoughts in 200 bars" refrain.

... And when Kate hits 200, 'Lazer Guided Melodies' ends. It may well, as the unbelievers will scoff, be indulgent, elongated and floating in a fug of apathy far away from the real world. But one man and his band's trip into deep inner space has rarely been as intoxicating as this. Beautiful, just beautiful.


John Mulvey