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Spacemen 3: Recurring

July 5, 2011

spacemen 3 recurringToday’s roll: 69 (heh) – 69 (heh heh) – 47 (Note: this is the first Bone Rolling Review, from October 2009,  when I used a 2d10 system)
Album: Spacemen 3: Recurring (1991).

I have to admit, I’m not sure I’ve ever been awake for the entire album before. It’s so full of perfectly lulling bubblegum drones, I’ve only ever put it on at night when I’m trying to go to sleep. By track three I’m usually there.

Recurring is one of those final albums where the band has effectively broken up at the time of recording and are fully broken up by the time of release. Some reports state Sonic Boom (Peter Kember) and J. Spaceman (Jason Pierce), the only two original members, were never in the studio at the same time. That’s usually a recipe for lacklustre performances and disjointed artistic vision. And to some extent that is the case here.

This isn’t to say the music isn’t engaging. But it’s not startling like Spacemen 3’s earlier records were. Though the first track (“Big City”) being psychedelic R&B synth-pop is startling in itself. In hindsight it’s a road Kember would take, but at the time Spacemen 3 fans must have been saying, “Really? That’s what’s happening? Really? No feedback? No distortion? Really? Are you sure?”

The album is divided two halves: Sonic Boom songs and J. Spaceman songs. This in itself is intriguing. Kember and Pierce’s contributions separated from the process collaboration for the first time, we hear how their approaches—at essentially identical goals—differ. Unlike other bands with a pair of distinct songwriters, it seemed like Spacemen 3 was a wholly organic partnership and it was almost impossible to hear where Kember left off and Pierce began.

On Recurring you can hear the very different, yet very similar, aspects they brought to those earlier platters. Kember’s half is more controlled, sterile, focussed and poppy where Pierce’s is a touch more ramshackle, raw, rural and unpredictable (even a Mudhoney cover!). It’s also where the few instances of Spacemen 3’s signature freaked-out fuzzy space-acid guitar make an appearance.

The album manages, despite of this, a surprisingly cohesive feel. Even if the first half is basically Kember’s first outing as Spectrum and the latter is essentially the first EP by Spiritualized (the new sidemen brought on board for Recurring would continue to work with Pierce in that project after the split), the fractured nature of the album’s conception isn’t apparent.

But what of the music itself? Recurring reputation suffers from being the fourth album by a genre-defining powerhouse with three scorching masterpieces behind it. In comparison to their previous work, it can’t be anything more than a mediocre swansong. But it’s one of those swansongs where, if it had been a debut, it would have turned the world on its ear. You can’t help feeling a little sorry for this often-dismissed album. But then, it’s just a piece of plastic so it would be weird to feel sorry for it.

The bottom line is this isn’t where you’d want to start with Spacemen 3 (try Sound of Confusion), but it’s still miles ahead of whatever other so-called psychedelic rock bands like Soup Dragons and House of Love were doing in 1991. In fact the joyously melancholy “Big City” might be one of the best 10+ minute synth/dream-pop epics ever committed to tape.

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