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Spacemen 3

Absolutely Nothing At All to Do with Drugs

 
Introduction
Sound of Confusion
Perfect Prescription
Performance
Playing with Fire
Dreamweapon (An Evening Of Contemporary Sitar Music)
Recurring
Spacemen Are Go! or Live in Europe

After a long and arduous search for the winner of the Druggiest Band on the Planet, I have finally been able to crown the winners. The conservative coalition of English-types Sonic ‘le Hedgehog’ Boom (Pete Kember) and Jason ‘Priestly’ Spaceman (Jason Pierce), along with some sidemen (whose names won’t be on the examination), Spacemen 3 were, with fellow-travelers My Bloody Valentine, the prime movers behind the late-80s British phenomenon known as Shoegazer Rock. Velvet Underground! Lots of drone-ing! Sunglasses! 40 minute songs with one chord! Shoegazer was bound to fail, mostly because it relied on the intoxication of its players much more deeply than any music genre since Skiffle and also because, well, you won’t hear it on the radio, ever. Shoegazer, with the Stone Roses and a few lesser Brit groups popular in 1989, gave birth to Britpop, which gave birth to Oasis, so maybe you shouldn’t extrapolate from Spacemen 3 too much.

Let’s Stay on Track. Spacemen 3 isn’t touchy-feely. They’re cold. They talk about themselves and their drug problems a lot. Their concert records illustrate that they assumed their audiences were as fucked up as they were.

So, then, What’s the Payoff?

You get some really nice sounds from two guitars. Tones from heaven. When the drugs work for S3, this is the best ‘ambient’ or 'psychedelic' music I’ve ever heard. Drone-y, melodic in a repetitive sense. They play much better than you think they might. Really inventive use of guitar effects. Daring music that isn’t usually ugly or violent, but peaceful and beautiful. Sometimes harrowing, sometimes soothing. In a word, psychedelic! Plus they talk about Jesus a lot, if you’re into that.


Sound of Confusion - Taang! 1986.

Their first one is fun, but embryonic, as the Pro-Lifers like to say. It seems like our boys got a bunch of old surf guitars and Fender amps and drugs and just started strumming. And strumming. Jing Jing Jing Jing. With distortion. Sometimes faster, sometimes slower. Sometimes one of them goes Squaaaaawk in the background by moving too close to their amp. And they sing, after a fashion, about different things that concern a young man’s life, such as drugs, feeling bad because of drugs, dying because of drugs, wanting drugs, and taking drugs. With lots of reverb. And they only write a few of the songs, so you know its, well…embryonic.

The compositions include the fast opener ‘Losing Touch with My Mind’, ‘Mary-Anne’ by Juicy Lucy (?) , which isn’t really very fast, and the Stooges’ ‘Little Doll’, about which I can’t decide whether its fast or not so screw it and say ‘mid-tempo’ and really tends to drag (just like the original so hey!). ‘Hey Man’ is a slower one where the title sounds like ‘Amen’. ‘2.35’ has cool feedback around its really dumb riff and retarded drumming. Can I mention how unimportant the rhythm section is to most of all of this? ‘O.D. Catastrophe’ is about 4 minutes longer than the longest ever Ramones song, but its pretty fast and tends to do okay on its long little path. Hey! It’s a rip-off of ‘Down on the Street’ by the Stooges! Betcha it took you a minute to figure that out, like it did me. It also goes ‘Jang Jang Jang Jang’ for a good 3 minutes or so in the middle while someone makes scarrry howly feedback noises in the background. 

They cover ‘Rollercoaster’ by 13th Floor Elevators and the CD has some extra bonus ripoff tracks from the EP version of ‘Walkin’ With Jesus’, with another ‘2.35’ and a 17 minute ‘Rollercoaster’ (ho ho!). These guys have about a thousand singles/demo tracks/alternative version CD’s out, of which I’m not dumb enough to partake, though I am dumb enough to buy two live albums. So there. Now I have only five versions of ‘Walkin’ with Jesus’.

This album is not cool enough to sit at my lunch table, but I will copy its homework and maybe, just maybe, go to its house sometime to play its Sega.

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 Perfect Prescription - Taang! 1987.

What an album title. Describes exactly what’s on this disc. The single mindedness of Sound of Confusion is replaced by….Dynamics! Melody! Jesus! Yup, this is where they begin their obsession with heaven and hell and sin and whatnot. Plus, I don’t know of a bad song on here. Some of them are long, but hell, its Spacemen 3, not the Ramones, fer Gawd’s sake. I have no idea who sings or wrote which of the songs, but at this point its much less important than on later discs. They were still the Brothers Junk on this record, and hadn't started to get all greedy and picky like later on..

And it’s a really good album to get fucked up to. I can't say that on television, can I? At least not without a mixture of creamed peas and scrambled eggs being poured on my head. But I can say it on Mark D. Prindle's nifty site, which is why I love you all.

‘Take Me to the Other Side’ is actually quite exciting, with that echo thing after the first verse that you wait to break and then JANG! JANG! JANG! Sounds like they played this really really loud in the studio. ‘Walkin With Jesus’ is the song that most people don’t remember them by. ‘If hea-ven’s like this, then that’s the place for me!’ Ha ha, smack is fun! Acoustic this time, fades out to organ and guitar….ooh! Nice!

‘Ode to Street Hassle’ talks about Jesus again. If you don’t pay attention, you might think its ‘Walkin' with Jesus 2’ I haven’t listened to the Lou Reed album by that name (Frank)  for a while, but I remember the guitar line kinda sounds like one of the songs off that. And Sonic (I think) is putting on his best Dirty Louie New Yawk accent. Slow, but listen to the tone…hey! ‘Ecstasy Symphony’ is like Dreamweapon-The Single Neat echo-drones! I wish I could do that with my guitar! Not much going on here, so maybe just call it Eno and call it a day. Shit, its less than 2 minutes long. It took me longer to write this than listen to the song. Nice fade-out to: …another really beautiful slow song (‘Transparent Radiation’, which isn’t their song, but, well, you know) ‘Ecstasy Symphony’ with lyrics and violins. And at almost 8 minutes, the song that seems to go on for ages. Err, yeah, a bit long.

‘Feel so Fine’ and ‘Things Will Never Be the Same’ are similar, edgy songs, not as loud as ‘Other Side’ but not the echo symphony of the last few tracks, either. Also long, but good….like Sound of Confusion.

‘Come Down Easy’...now here’s a change of pace! Sonic (I assume) singing a paraphrase of ‘Jesus Gonna Make Up My Dying Bed’ (which you might have heard done by Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, sort of) over a slow, bouncy boogie.

‘Call the Doctor’ is slow again, and creepy. High’s worn off. ‘Soul 1’ is instrumental, with horns, slide guitar, and a thing that just repeats over and over again. ‘That’s Just Fine’, also instrumental, also sounds like Sound of Confusion, with someone playing a cool lead guitar melody. ‘Starship’ (originally by Sun Ra, but who owns any Sun Ra albums?) finishes up with a cool tribute to the great 80’s psychedelic group led by the unequaled Mickey Thomas. Plus it has backwards lyrics that remind me of part of ‘Relax (Don’t Do It)’ and a cool ‘Take Me to the Other Side’-ish ness. They do ‘Ecstasy’ for 8 minutes and it actually sounds like there’s a violin in there, maybe there is. It’s also like Dreamweapon.

Wholeheartedly recommended to all listeners of psychedelic music.

 

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Joe    Your Rating: A+
Any Short Comments?: My version of this doesn't have 'Ecstasy Symphony' or 'Starship'. What happened? Still an amazing album by an amazing band. And 'OD Catastrophe' rips off 'TV Eye', not 'Down on the Street'. Duh.
And 'Sound of Confusion' is, like, a thousand times better than 'Playing with Fire'. Which is shit.

 

Maggie     Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: The actual album ends at "Call the Doctor" - the rest are bonus tracks tacked on by dubious stateside distributor, Taang! Records. Otherwise, this is obviously their best record, though I'm fond of both Sound of Confusion and Playing With Fire, and it's better than anything Spiritualized have released. (Although I like Pure Phase quite a bit, and RAH some.) Recurring is even worse than you say it is. Jason's side is crap outside of "Billy Whizz", which is just a rewrite of "Call the Doctor" anyway, and I guess "Hypnotized", which I don't love.

How come you haven't reviewed (the rather OK) Let It Come Down and (the rather atrocious) Amazing Grace? Lost interest?

(Capn's Response: Yeah, I guess. Let it Come Down kinda left me cold. I suppose the fact that I stopped listening to Spacemen 3 all the time around the same time I stopped taking lots of pills all the time. Nah...couldn't be.)


Performance - Taang! 1988

A neat live album in that it shows this neat band could do most of its neat effects on the stage as well as they did on the neat album Perfectly Neat. ‘Other Side’, ‘Mary Anne with the Shaky Hands’, ‘Rollercoaster’. They do ‘Come Together’ by the MC5 and it takes a minute to finger out that’s what it is. Funny how little the band (other than Jason and Sonic) do during a live show. Okay sound. Nothing earth-shatteringly different, though. This is not The Grateful Dead. They. Do. Not. Jam. They Drone. They Live. Consume. Obey.

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Playing With Fire - Taang! 1989.

Perfect Prescription: The Day After…well here you have more organ, nicer singing, and soothing melodies (‘Honey’ for example). Sweet, soulful, happy, melancholy. These are words you might like to apply to most of the songs. Or you might apply them to your wounds. Or your anus. ‘How Does it Feel’ does a stereo echo thing for a long while, then some speaking bits, then some simple guitar melody. Then some fuzz. Then some singin’. Then some drums. Cool!

Then we have the ‘difficult’ tracks:  ‘Revolution’ sounds like MC5 again. Really loud. He sounds pissed. Neat fuzztones. ‘Suicide’ is 11 minutes long and also violent. It’s dedicated to the band of the same name, apparently another influence. These guys are really good at feedback. This would be on a soundtrack album if anyone ever had any balls. Anyone except me. ‘Lord Can You Hear Me’ is another ‘smack head’s lament’ with blues and Jesus and 2 seconds of saxophone. Again, cool. Live version of ‘Suicide’ on my disc, then ‘Repeater (How Does it Feel)’, also live.

In general, this one is less out there than Prescription but only a bit. It’s not weird, but simply schizo. Still really good and in keeping with the Spacemen sound fer sure. Sometimes their obsession with drugs gets old, but no more so than, say, Pete Townshend and ‘the kids’ or Whitesnake with ‘sucking big cock’.

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Dreamweapon (An Evening of Contemporary Sitar Music) - Fierce 1990

Listen, you either get this or you don’t. It goes echo echo echo for 40 minutes. It has no lyrics. It’s live, but doesn’t have the millionth version of ‘Rollercoaster’ on it. When you get right down to it, the title is actually quite accurate (the sitar part, not the Andy Warhol ripoff part) It sounds like a really long version of ‘Ecstasy’, maybe. Its two guys with guitars. It doesn’t talk about Jesus or drugs, for once.

I think it’s cool to do housework to. You might like it during sleep. You might think it’s silly. You might think its dull and uneventful. You might have a starved rat gnawing its way through your vaginal walls because your hands are nailed to the floor. Or you might not.

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Recurring - Dedicated 1991.

Now this is weird. Totally different than Prescription or Fire. What the hell happened? Well, Sonic and Jason stopped working together, for one thing. The first side is all Sonic songs, and it blows, more or less. ‘Big City’ has a bunch of bouncy poppy syn drums and shit. Sounds like Depeche Mode, with whom I do not enter into congress. Actually there’s a whole lot of synth here. ‘Why Couldn’t I See’ is more business as usual than THAT, but still sounds strangely 80’s pop. Maybe it’s the chorused guitar strums, or the synth thing, or the echo on the singing. At least the words are the same. ‘I Love You’, gosh, maybe the Vaselines? ‘When Tomorrow Hits’ is pretty cool, but I can’t understand the words. Probably talking about drugs and Jesus again. That’s cool, because all Republicans talk about is guns and Jesus. It’s good to have some variety in yer life. What the hell happened to Sonic? He totally gave up the ghost here, and as far as I can tell, he hasn’t written a decent song since.

Then we have the other side Jason wants to take us to. He’s still keeping it real, not selling out, representing the streets, giving us our props and not dissing us. The songs are usual fare, and maybe not that good as he is capable, but hell, his band was breaking up. ‘Hypnotized’ is poppy in a way that isn’t totally dated, and boy that organ is awright with me. Horns! Another Spiritualized mainstay. ‘Sometimes’ is like we’re back in 1987 again. Slow! ‘Feelin Just Fine (Head Full of Shit)’ seems to update the old sound with some cool bongos and a cool mix and a great build to the end. Listen with some headphones and tell me you don’t agree. Or listen on your $14.99 Kmart car stereo with two blown speakers in your ’86 Cavalier full of Taco Bell cups and tell me it sounds like shit. I don’t care. ‘Billy Whiz-Blue’ is simply slow and sounds awfully familiar. Are we sure these guys aren’t recycling?

You’re gonna have to look long and hard for this one in the stores. I had to download it (ooks!) I can’t say it’s all that good. Not good enough to pay a bunch of money for. Totally split down the middle. The first half is Sonic’s, the second, Jason’s. Jason’s songs have more guitars and are more ‘out there’, but still harmonic and soothing. Sonics are the poppy drum machine beasties at the beginning. Jason’s songs are good, for the most part, Sonic’s aren’t.

After this, Sonic Boom went solo, made albums I didn’t ever hear, joined Spectrum (never heard ‘em) and Experimental Audio Research (E.A.R.) which is cool if you like double albums of insect noises. Jason went on to form the more Spaceman 3-esque Spiritualized, which is recommended for further study.

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Spacemen Are Go! (aka Live in Europe 1989)- Space Age 1995.

Imagine my lack of surprise as to how this live album sounded. Apparently Sonic and/or J were not satisfied with Performance, and decided to record another live album during the following year's tour. Well, this one doesn't sound as good, but hell...its a live album. Possible causes of nipple erection could be the fact that the drummer and bassist on this tour later turned out to be the same parts in Spiritualized. Also, they play a couple of tunes from Playing With Fire that you might enjoy and won't find on Performance. That's it.

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Jeremy Coleman
Hey...
 
When Tomorrow Hits is a Mudhoney cover. Most Spacemen 3 fans still follow both Sonic and Jason, but neither have done anything close to Playing with Fire or The Perfect Perscription.
 
Spectrum's first two albums are more Spacemen 3 like than Spiritualized's first two efforts. It's worth it to find them. Spectrum's 1992 release (forget the name of the album) on Silvertone records is very Spacemen like.

 


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First Posted 9.27.01

Originally posted on Prindle's Site

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