Friday, July 1st, 2022
Spiritualized – Reflecting on the 25th Anniversary of “Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Spac
The Album First Came Out on June 16, 1997
Jul 01, 2022
By Austin Saalman
One of popular music’s most fascinating breakup records, English space rock group Spiritualized’s third album Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space affectingly explores the coldest annals of human loss and longing, weaving together a saga of somnolent heartache and soft perseverance. The anguish of premature separation permeates each track as frontman and core member Jason Pierce grapples to collect the pieces of his fractured soul and place them back into some discernible order, the resultant masterpiece chronicling his journey from surreal persistence to cool tranquility.
Recorded during the aftermath of his split from girlfriend and bandmate Kate Radley, who had quietly married The Verve’s Richard Ashcroft, 1997’s Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space initiated a fresh creative direction for Pierce as a premiere figure in ’90s alt rock, highlighting his eclectic musical preferences, and continued his penchant for sonic experimentation. The album’s consistently fuzzy synth base glimmers with an array of genre influences, from Pierce’s quotation of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love” on the album’s heart-wrenching opening title track to his incorporation of an ethereal gospel chorus on the triumphant “Cool Waves,” Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space explores the deepest recesses of popular music.
Although Pierce has claimed to have written much of the album’s material prior to his breakup with Radley, this fact matters not, as the album’s keen introspection remains entirely convincing, as though Pierce had somehow anticipated his relationship’s impending doom. More impressive is Pierce’s assimilation of his aforementioned musical inspirations into his own hazy collage of excess and loneliness, with iconic guest artist Dr. John’s keyboard solo on the 17-minute closing art rock explosion “Cop Shoot Cop…”—which also references John Prine’s classic ballad “Sam Stone”—falling right into place with Pierce’s central forlorn vision. This feels as natural as his incorporation of orchestral flourishes, brass-heavy jazz and frantic blues harmonica, heard on tracks such as “Broken Heart” and “I Think I’m in Love.”
Of course, the title having been borrowed from a line in Jostein Gaarder’s popular 1993 philosophical novel Sophie’s World, Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space thinks deeply, reserving the prominent neo-psychedelic leanings of previous Spiritualized releases to numb the system and blur perspective like a fistful of Lorazepam. Pierce’s chemical-laden bloodstream trickles softly through tracks such as the beguilingly intoxicated “Stay With Me” and the piercingly beautiful “Home of the Brave,” on which he confesses, “I’m sure when it wears off/That I will be hurting.”
The album’s rich sonic textures help to set the stage for Pierce’s aching daydream, lyrics simple and straightforward enough to maintain a universal sense of relatability in lines such as “I will love you ‘til I die/And I will love you all the time/So please put your sweet hand in mine/And float in space and drift in time” and the whispered “Baby, when you gotta sleep/Lay your head down low/Don’t let the world weigh heavy on your soul.” Therein, perhaps, rests the beauty of Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space—its honest emotion and sheer accessibility in the face of Pierce’s inimitable art pop experimentalism being a tough feat even for artists of the utmost experience and intelligence.
Greeted with critical acclaim upon its release, Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space managed to beat both OK Computer and, perhaps in an instance of poetic justice, The Verve’s Urban Hymns as NME’s Album of the Year, cementing itself as a timeless staple of its vast genre. Four years later, the title track’s appearance at the climax of director Cameron Crowe’s grossly underappreciated 2001 sci-fi romance Vanilla Sky helped to demonstrate the album’s cinematic merit, while its continued reverence among critics and fans alike has helped to hold its deserved place among the great fabled ’90s masterworks.
Two decades later, Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space has aged exceptionally well, retaining its initial bite and gift of raw, contemplative nakedness, surely to resonate with even those most broken of modern hearts.