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Spiritualized – Songs in A&E (Re-issue, Fat Possum)

I’ve always loved the title of this album by indie band Spritualized. It has two sides to it, yes Songs in A&E, but also Songs in A&E. On one side you have songs played in the keys of A & E (perhaps), perfectly acceptable. Whilst on the other hand, it’s like the ‘songs’ have gone out on a Saturday night, in whatever town or city you wish to choose and ended up in the local A&E for whatever reason. But why am I waxing lyrical about an album first released on the Sanctuary label, in May 2008? Well, as with many others, time is ripe for the album to be revisited on this anniversary edition. Well, I can see no reason why it shouldn’t, so let’s give it a spin.

The latest in the band’s catalogue to receive the re-release treatment, Songs in A&E has received new artwork to accompany this release. I remember the original artwork, a pretty uninspiring look of block letters, printed on a clean sleeve of white and green. A Google search was required to spark those memories and I recalled that the pre-release packaging was presented in a foil sleeve, different, although it wasn’t going to set the world on fire. Perhaps this was the point, let the music do the talking and when you learn that Jason Pierce had been hospitalised with double pneumonia, hooked up to machines to keep him alive before this opus was released, another facet becomes clear. Unsurprisingly it was this experience that became the inspiration for the album’s title. So sit back and enjoy, some 16 years on.

Starting with the whisper performed by electronic tones in ‘Harmony 1 (Mellotron)’, before the laid-back bass line of ‘Sweet Talk’ is introduced. This is a lovely song, complete with harp and choir and when the vocal of Pierce begins “Well, you sweet talk like an angel…”, it’s the C&W tone that came as a surprise. Previous outings had been far more spaced out, electronic, but with a dose of drug-fuelled inspiration. The C&W melodies continue, as ‘Death Take Your Fiddle’ rattles around the corner and it’s Jason’s experience of being on life-support that rings true. The sound of an iron lung is what takes the listener’s attention before Pierce sings “I think I’ll drink myself into a coma…”. Now this is not what comes to mind when double pneumonia is mentioned, but with artistic licence applied, the chorus makes clear just how black this experience was, “So death take your fiddle and play a song for me…”. Don’t for a moment think that this album is one of shadow, as ‘I Gotta Fire’ comes into view, a number filled with searing guitar and the light offered by the vocal “Gotta fire inside my soul. Let it burn and let it glow…”, later followed by “…Praise the Lord and I’ll find out…”. Another facet which can be heard throughout the album, but its true intent is never one to overshadow proceedings.

These are more than just songs to go to sleep to; many have a hook whose melody will leave you humming throughout the day and well into your slumber. Well-constructed movements whether it be with wah-wah guitar, or more traditional instrumentation, these 18 numbers play out in just 52 minutes, which seems barely possible. Beautiful imagery is offered in Pierce’s writing, lines like “…I’ve got a hurricane inside my veins…” in ‘Soul On Fire’, the words I hear as signifying a lost love and the hedonism described in the simply titled ‘Yeah Yeah’, its musical accompaniment, a wild ride.

The theme of the album is one of faith, perhaps down to the fact its author managed to overcome death, making his way to make another record. Perhaps his greatest achievement in those bands where he’s been a driving creative force. This album certainly creates a high watermark. In places, you might hear the tones of Mickey Dolenz and his Monkees. Less so the throwaway episodes of the television show The Monkees, but crafted arrangements that made the show so popular and acting as an unpaid childminder for a swathe of sixties youth. These numbers are just as crafted, less so songs in isolation, but more a musical blanket, with which to wrap listeners in the warmth of its creator. I don’t know why when released, I didn’t pay more attention, but am glad that the second time around I had the benefit of doing so. I will leave you with the album’s final track ‘Goodnight Goodnight’, a definite ode to the comedown, suggested in the line “Goodnight goodnight, you’re coming down. But it’s all right…”. I’m not the only critic to have realised this, it’s written large, but what an album.


God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.