by Caroline Smith
The first thing I noticed upon pressing play on Spiritualized’s newest release, And Nothing Hurt, is the album cover. The album’s title is written in Morse code, overlayed over an image of front-man Jason Pierce in a spacesuit, traversing a barren desert, with mountains far in the background, faded into the dusty air. It’s presumably a reference to Pierce previously working under the name J. Spaceman, but the result is uncomfortable and lonely; drenched in solitude. It’s unclear if this desert walk takes place on Earth or somewhere else– but it doesn’t matter much to the overall effect. This version of Pierce is alone, and even kind of lost, wherever he is: space has long been aligned with isolation, and it’s almost more disconcerting to imagine the kind of mindset required to randomly wear a spacesuit on Earth.
Isolation is not a theme that is new to Pierce. Themes of addiction, loneliness– and the loneliness of addiction– have permeated his work for decades, but here, Pierce seems to move away from such grandiosity. And Nothing Hurt is more of a collection of sad love ballads than anything else, and while the album is supremely consistent tonally, it’s not remarkably conceptual, and there isn’t a lot to tie it all together. The instrumentation is lusher than Spiritualized has played around with in recent years, but it ends up making the album feel slightly “dad-rock”, a far-cry from the rougher, more psychedelic sound and intense reverb that marked their earlier albums. This, certainly, is at least somewhat intentional. Pierce, now 52 years old, recently said that he didn’t want to make music that sounded like him “trying to pretend [he’s] 23” in an interview with the New York Times. Unfortunately, all this really did for me was draw attention to the album’s status as essentially a middle-aged comeback for Pierce before his potential retirement– as it’s rumored that this might be the last we’ll hear from Spiritualized.
That being said, the album’s aged feel has major highlights in opening track ‘A Perfect Miracle,’ and ‘Let’s Dance.’ In contrast to the album’s isolating cover, Pierce consistently addresses an absent lover, creating a sort of “alone, together” atmosphere. On ‘Here It Comes (The Road) Let’s Go,’ Pierce attempts to convince a lover to run away with him to “get stoned all through the night”; a weirdly childish fantasy for someone attempting to be older. Pierce’s words and voice feel world-weary and melancholy. This is actually a massive plus for the album, although his songs are lacking in lyrical complexity. Nothing about it feels forced– even if it’s not the most cohesive album, it is a rather natural one.
Pierce has been going back and forth on whether or not And Nothing Hurt will be the last
Spiritualized album, and a potential hypothesis for why this is jumps out at me: I don’t think this is the album that Pierce wanted to make before going out. And Nothing Hurt certainly ends Spiritualized’s legacy with a whimper over a bang. The unfortunate result of trying not to pretend you’re 23 is that what you end up with feels a little old and faded instead.