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Spiritualized

Jason Pierce (or J. Spaceman as he famously prefers) formed Spiritualized in 1990 after the breakup of his former band, British psychedelic rockers Spacemen 3. Since its inception, Spiritualized has sustained a constant state of inconsistency; hosting countless musicians and shape-shifting in sound with every new album.

Musically speaking, they started out creating similar tranced-out soundscapes as Spacemen 3, symphonic melodies that paid homage to Pink Floyd and served as a true pre-cursor to many of the shoe-gazing Brit-poppers of the late '90s. With the 1997 release of Ladies and Gentlemen, We are Floating In Space, the band combined a more classic rock sound with complex arrangements and heavily featured an entire gospel choir. 2001's Let It Come Down generally followed suit, with over 100 supporting musicians creating a brass and horn-fueled backdrop and gospel, jazz and rock roots melding into an elaborate production. The recently dropped Amazing Grace left most of that behind. It has a much dirtier sound, with lots of distortion pedals and a much simpler orchestration. The soulful elements are still apparent, but much less intricate.

Spiritualized has also changed in profile. The music world lavished them with unmitigated praise after the release of Ladies and Gentlemen, hailed as Album of the Year by venerable British magazine NME in 1997. The runner up? A little record called OK Computer by a tiny band named Radiohead. All comparisons ended there, as Radiohead went on to do their thing and Spiritualized settled back comfortably into cult-following status, their niche fan-base waiting four years for more music from their heroes.

On top of all that, Pierce treats band personnel like a failing dot-com in 2000. As the de-facto CEO of Spiritualized, Inc., he managed to replace all the original members by the time Ladies and Gentlemen came out. The new trio which recorded that album was promptly fired after its success, and the revolving door has swung 'round and 'round since.

The one constant, then, is Pierce himself - and he is indeed the maestro of all things Spiritualized, the purveyor of all this audacious adventuring. His voice is a controlled wailer, and he can bend it to the multitude of genres he references. He writes all the lyrics, mostly centered on religion, death, a long-time love/hate affair with drugs and the pain he uses them to escape from. An example from Amazing Grace: "If Jesus is the straight path that saves/Then I'm condemned to live my whole life on the curve/On the cross roads with the devil/I'll dwell and I'll count my years."

The newest album suffers from a mini personality crisis of its own, forging back and forth between the minimalist garage noise (at least two songs might as well be Strokes tunes) and the preachy oft-pretentious stuff. And while you have to applaud any attempt at diversity, there is a succinct lack of connection and the record as a whole feels disjointed.

However, the show is no doubt worth seeing, as Pierce's live translations have always provided a trippy grandiosity that can hold anyone in the room spellbound - no matter what sound or lineup the name Spiritualized currently represents.