Understated Classics #29: Let It Come Down by Spiritualized

I listened to Let It Come Down by Spiritualized for the first time during a difficult time in my life. I think this will always affect my feelings towards it. For me it’s a great big comfort blanket of a record. Coming after one of the all-time best break-up albums (in an artistic sense) in “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space” perhaps it’s not that much of a surprise. Layered in orchestras, horn sections, and gospel choirs, it’s not understated at all but hopefully I can persuade you that it is a classic.

Let It Come Down begins in fine form with “On Fire”, a song laden with horns, gospel choirs, barrelling drums and blues-y piano riffs. The first line is “Let’s see how high we can fly before the sun melts the wax in our wings” and it just gets more defiant from there. It’s reminiscent of “Electricity” off of “Ladies and Gentlemen…” but more upbeat. Continuing the upbeat feel is “Do It All Over Again”, perhaps the closest Spiritualized have ever come to making a genuine pop song.

“Don’t Just Do Something” sums up the mood of the whole of Let It Come Down (and how I felt at the time I first heard the album): “I could lay around just stay in bed like my mama said / don’t just do something, sit around instead”. Starting off almost as a continuation of “Do It All Over Again”, around half way through it slips into a tempo change and becomes a blissed out homage to doing nothing: “To tell the truth / I like to lie about”. There’s a lovely little coda too.

“Out of Sight” always reminds me of Holst’s “The Planets” (probably Jupiter) because of its slow build up to orchestral bombast. The song oscillates between a slow simple verses and the over-the-top choruses that thrown in the orchestra and the kitchen sink. It was these hugely cathartic wordless phrases of brass and squally electric guitar that provided the comfort. By the time the lyrics kick in, you’re all pepped up for singing along. It’s a twenty-first century “Hey Jude”.

Then “The Twelve Steps” roars in and mocks the recovery programme: “the only time I’m drink and drug free / is when I get my drink and drugs for free / that’s rare indeed”. It talks about addiction as a cash cow for the weirdly religious twelve step programme. It’s probably wrong to eulogise drugs as fervently as this song does but it’s so much fun, I can’t help but join in: “you’re just as likely to find inner peace / by buying the stuff from the streets”.

As a rejoinder, the album the lurches to “The Straight and The Narrow”: “the trouble with the straight and narrow is that it’s so thin / I keep sliding off to the sides”. It’s weepy and saccharine, a bit Disney really all strings and electric piano. I think it’s one that I’ve usually skipped over but listening to it again, it’s not so bad. I think it’s as just as tongue-in-cheek about resolve and temptation as “The Twelve Steps” is about addiction and drugs.

At first “I Didn’t Mean To Hurt You” seems like a retread of “The Straight and The Narrow” but it slowly builds into something hypnotic and beautiful, incrementally layering different elements one on top of the other. The lyric cycles around too and then on three minutes it all bursts into life. Having made an earlier comparison to Holst’s “The Planets”, “I Didn’t Mean To Hurt You” is more like Ravel’s “Bolero”. It’s a great little tune that makes the most of its simple construction.

“Stop Your Crying” is perhaps the most direct song on the album. It’s the only one that really feels directly addressed to the listener. I definitely remember it making me feel much better all those years ago. While “Come on baby stop your crying now” is a bit like saying “oh do chin up”, the pretty strings and the fizzing of the guitars make it feel sympathetic and supportive. Like “I Didn’t Mean To Hurt You” it builds to a crescendo. I’m going to have this song on stand by if I ever become a parent.

“Anything More” revisits the formula of the album’s middle section once more for luck but it’s only padding before the big finale. Think of a cross between The Beatles’ “Good Night” and Blur’s “Tender” and you’ll pretty much have it figured out, though there is a lovely lyrical violin line running through it that I didn’t remember.

The big finale is the ten minute “Won’t Get To Heaven (The State I’m In)” which begins with some fluttering drones and synth noises before the guitars and strings kick in to introduce pretty much all the tricks of every track on the album so far over the next eight and a half minutes. It’s nowhere near “Cop Shoot Cop” but that song is one of those once-in-a-career moments. Instead “Won’t Get To Heaven” is a perfectly paced and well produced climax to the album that revisits all its themes and ideas. It fades into “Lord Can You Hear Me”, a cover of one J. Spaceman’s own songs by his previous band The Spaceman 3. Inspired by Low’s cover of the song, he converted the original to a gospel ballad. Much like the rest of the tracks it builds to a crescendo but this time releases some major guitar fireworks at the end. It’s a powerful climax to a fine album.

I lost touch with Spiritualized after this album, though “Songs From A&E” and the more recent “Sweet Heart Sweet Light” are supposed to be very good so I guess I should dig them up on Spotify soon. I’d say that “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space”, which I played the hell out of during my A-levels, is technically the better album, but “Let It Come Down” had a real impact on me. It really did make a difference at a bad time in my life (albums in this series are no stranger to that, see number 24) and helped me get better. It’s still one of my go-to records when I feel down or can’t sleep. As with every understated classic, I really recommend it.

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· Understated Classics, Music, Spiritualized, Rock, Fifteen

⇠ On Writing As It Happens

Album Digest, February 2015 ⇢