Monday, December 1, 2014

I'd Love to Turn You On #117 - Spacemen 3 - The Perfect Prescription

The duo of Jason "Spaceman" Pierce and Pete "Sonic Boom" Kember came together in the mid-80s with a mission of blending all their myriad influences into a big psychedelic stew. They dug the proto-punk of the MC5, Stooges, and Velvet Underground; the garage-psych of the Red Krayola and 13th Floor Elevators; the avant-jazz of Sun Ra; experimental and early electronic composers like LaMonte Young and Terry Riley; and, perhaps most importantly, early blues and gospel. This put them out of touch with most of what was going on in underground music at the time, but the sounds they created as Spacemen 3 had an indelible effect on those that heard them. They mixed noise and feedback with quiet beauty and a touch of soul. They also did a lot of drugs and weren't shy about singing about it. In fact, the band's slogan was "Taking drugs to make music to take drugs to." Yet instead of the big mess this could have been, Spacemen 3 were able to build a unique sound and a memorable discography. Their greatest achievement is their second full length, 1987's The Perfect Prescription.

"Take Me to the Other Side" kicks things off with an all-time great guitar riff and an invitation to rock out. "Walking With Jesus" is more reflective and also much quieter than the feedback enhanced early version of the song, then titled "Sound of Confusion."  The song also establishes the use of religious imagery that would become so much a part of Pierce's songwriting.  "Ode to Street Hassle" is exactly what the title promises, a spaced-out rewrite of the Lou Reed classic. An excerpt of "Ecstasy Symphony," the ambient piece they played before they took the stage, leads into a long, mellow cover of the Red Krayola's "Transparent Radiation." This represents Spacemen 3 at their most blissed-out and trippy.  "Feel So Good" is another slower number, but they kick it up again for the stomping rocker "Things'll Never Be the Same." The early blues influence shines through with the acoustic "Come Down Easy." This is a laid-back, front porch strummer all about the joys of chemical enhancement. The original album concludes with the haunting "Call the Doctor," a reminder that some trips don't always end the way you want them to. The current CD edition adds a pair of instrumental bonus tracks, the sax-enhanced "Soul 1" and the guitar rock of "That's Just Fine."

Like many great creative duos, the union of
Pierce and Kember was not built to last.  After The Perfect Prescription they began writing separately and the band split for good in 1991.  Pierce went on to form Spiritualized, who have become one of the most acclaimed bands of the past 20 years. Kember launched several projects, including Spectrum and EAR, and has recently worked with MGMT, Panda Bear, and Wooden Shjips. With Spiritualized, Pierce has reworked several Spacemen classics, with "Walking With Jesus" and "Take Me to the Other Side" becoming concert favorites. While it's unlikely we'll ever see a Spacemen 3 reunion, their once obscure catalog endures and continues to draw new fans. The Perfect Prescription is a great place to start.

            - Adam Reshotko

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