“Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space” is a colossal, heartbreaking album that came out of one of the most classic rock music traditions. Before the album, Spiritualized frontman Jason Pierce had his heart broken by band member Kate Radley, who secretly married The Verve’s Richard Ashcroft. Two of the best albums of the decade, The Verve’s “Urban Hymns” and this one were very likely written about Radley, who became like a britpop version of Pattie Boyd.
After enduring that experience, a lot of musicians would make a mute, plaintive record, baring their emotions that way. What makes “Ladies and Gentlemen…” so great is that Pierce does just the opposite: He brings in strings, horns, a gospel choir, and clearly does a whole lot of drugs in an attempt to drift as far away from his problems as possible. In other words, he floats in space, and he brings the listener with him.
Despite all those indulgences, everything about “Ladies and Gentlemen…” feels earned, in part because Pierce’s emotional core is always there in the songs. It’s not an exercise in masturbatory excess the way some of the similar 70+ minute albums of the time period were. For Pierce, who since his days in Spacemen 3 had specialized in drony, spaced out music, “Ladies and Gentlemen…” is his most triumphant artistic statement because, despite it’s space-rock sound, it is firmly grounded in reality.
The album has one of the greatest openers ever with the title track. Kate Radley, who is still in the band at this point, says the opening words “ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space” for full ironic effect before the orchestral strings and Pierce’s echoing vocals come in. The song borrows lyrics from the Elvis Presley song “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” which created some legal problems when the album was first released, but now the song can be experienced in its full glory thanks to a recent reissue and some changes in songwriting credit.
That song segues into the second track, “Come Together”, which is one of the most straight-forward rock songs Spiritualized have recorded. In general, the album offers an ideal mix of Spiritualized’s drone and space rock tendencies with more straight-forward numbers, which is what helps make it the band’s masterpiece. “All of My Thoughts” is one of the saddest songs on an already sad album, with Pierce lamenting “I don’t know what to do on my own/because all of my thoughts are with you,” after which the song explodes into spaced-out noise with squealing horns and guitar.
The centerpiece of the album is “Broken Heart,” which represents the peak of the album’s sadness. Along with The Verve’s “The Drugs Don’t Work”, it’s one of the most relentlessly bleak songs of this era, thanks a beautiful seven minute string arrangement and Pierce’s rock bottom lyrics: “I have a broken heart/but I’m too busy to be heartbroken.” If anyone ever asks me what the saddest song ever is, this is usually one of my answers.
The album closes out with the 17 minute “Cop Shoot Cop…” and I can only hope that Pierce was able to exercise some of his demons with this record. “Ladies and Gentlemen…” falls into what I like to call “experience albums.” Listening to it takes you to a different place, which is one of the best things that music can do. Spiritualized has never really reached this level of greatness before or since, but on this album everything clicked, and the result was one of the best heartbreak albums ever, as well as one of the finest arguments for using mind-altering substances to make music.