I have a passion sweet Lord... and it just won't go away

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What we are dealing with here – and no other word will do – is a miracle. The Spacemen 3, the band that had painted themselves into rock’s most inescapable-looking corner, have done the full Houdini…

Prior to this, their third, LP the S3 were of course something of a standing (or, in their case, po-facedly seated) joke: dour bastards from Rugby, they seemed to spend their spare time bleating that the increasingly prominent and popular Loop had nicked that psychedelic artillery nightmare sound from them.

The general reaction to this – “aaah, diddums” – was intensified by the release last year of Loop’s mighty ‘Heaven’s End’. A record that left the Spacies in the preposterous position of having to follow up someone else’s LP! And yet (amazingly, and – considering the recent and painfully disappointing Loop newie – with exquisite timing) Jason, Sonic and Willie have pulled it off.

And they’ve done it by the simple expedient of avoiding the Loophole altogether, and digging up the courage, from God only knows where, to radically alter the face of their own noise. From the very first note of ‘Honey’ you hear the new Spacemen 3. Gone are the huge sonic assaults and the psychotic rounds of guitar war(p)s. In their place is a tiny, tremulous thing of beauty, a flower where there used to be a landmine.

This is a music of stillness, quietness, whispers and sighs. It still throbs and vibrates like the S3 of old but where that was the noise of the earth sundering itself, it’s now the sound of a single proton pulsing, alone and unique. And, dusted with Sonic ‘n’ Jason’s wistful, depressed vocals, it’s all rather moving.

I nearly said ‘religious’ and the lowing organ that stalks at least three of these songs make that a lot less ludicrous than it might at first seem. I really can’t imagine what the heaven or hell’s been going on in the Space station; but the results are startling.

Devotees of the S3’s former style will find some comfort from the fact that two tracks (their last single, the slightly nutty ‘Revolution’ and the seemingly interminable instrumental, ‘Suicide’) do conjure up the old storm, but in truth both merely serve to highlight the strange radiance of their newer cousins.

I really didn’t think that Spacemen 3 had the bollocks to break the losers mould that they’d volunteered themselves for, but ‘Playing With Fire’ has proved me wildly wrong. It is a curious, brave, intriguing record, quite unlike anything that you’re likely to hear elsewhere. And it’s no mere novelty; more, I reckon, a minor triumph. (8 ½)

Danny Kelly, NME.

Spacemen 3 have kicked out the aimless jams, opted for colour, space and sensuality, and come up with the last word in English psychedilia.

DC, NME end of year round-up.  

Burning In Heaven

Revolution, purity, love, suicide, accuracy. These are the key words according to Spacemen 3. I consider them eternally interesting words, don’t you? Let’s just leave them there, pristine with potential, doing their own thing, not yet unrequited.

Spacemen 3 are perverse. They can no longer deny it. “Playing With Fire”, an extraordinary record, is the last thing we expected and very probably a work of warped genius. Either that or a sly snidey joke. The first time I heard it, I thought it was a stream of wafting hippy nonsense, as far removed from the slowburn ire of “revolution” as you could get. Well, that’s not strictly true. The first time I heard it, I thought it was groovy and far-out actually, cos Sonic Boon had got me well off my pretty little head. This is Spacemen 3’s aim. To “take” you “higher”. To blow away your Britishness. To loosen your restraint. To turn your limbs to languor, your mind to motion. And so on.

Back home it sounded crap. Opening a tin of cat food, or taking the bins out, it seemed as relevant to the youth of today (ahem) as a church or a ballet. For a while. But the more you return to it, the more you give it a chance late at night or use it as Braille wallpaper, the greater the impression defines itself that this is not three spoiled brats from Rugby impersonating the most gone American bands, but something so self-confidently lazy and inscrutable as to be the real unreal thing, an artefact pulsating with a knowledge of its own graceful strengths. Spacemen 3 have taken a courageous gamble in giving us this hymnal hologram instead of rocking out. They’ve done guitars before. Their earlier records are great. But this one is a vortex of vacuums, a mirage, a (it had to come) hallucinatory hypnosis, and as such is wilfully indulgent, defiantly grandiose. You’ll smirk. Or you’ll kiss it. It’s up to you. Kill time or touch the stars.

It’s all not so much a cry for revolution, as for redemption. “Jesus dies for somebody’s sins, Lord look at the state I’m in/Look alright but I’m f***ed within/Can’t go through it all again.” Forgive us our trespasses, say Spacemen 3, for we knew not what we did, we were high as kites. That the plethora of religious entreaties here are down to Jason rather than Sonic is a possibility. You’ll love them if you don’t hate them. Spacemen 3, a group out of time, have now left Loop looking as astral and cosmic as a No 73 bus. When “Revolution” does come storming in, the impact is more shattered than ever.

There are two other orphaned elegies here which are as powerful as anything anyone’s put out in months. “How Does It Feel” succeeds in conveying the world and its wife through two sadly echoed notes. The crescendo, though, is “suicide”, “both a soundtrack t the act and a tribute to the band.” Within seconds it’s better than anything that band ever did. Impossible to describe, this insistent whirl of fuzzy freaky flailing fluvial flirtation with self-obliteration (well, nearly impossible to describe) is enough to make you miss several trains. Correction: to hit several trains, pulpwards. Spacemen 3 have chosen to tread softly through most of this record (passive resistance?), but when they shriek, the pillars of convention look distinctly shaky. “Playing With Fire” achieves its objectives in a magic roundabout way. It is, I have decided at long last, a major coup.

“Lord Can You Hear Me?” is their final question. I should think the old feller’s got it on full blast.

Chris Roberts, Melody Maker

To say that Spacemen 3 are out on their own is just stating the obvious. On the surface they emanate a kind of druggy indifference, the kind of thing that was so rife in the mid 70s before punk, when rock groups rose above their station by keeping their stack heels in good position. Back then they were stuck with ridiculous clothes, playing an out-moded brand of glam rock that had been done much better almost everywhere. Spacemen 3 don’t look like that and don’t play like that. They are different.

If anything, Spacemen 3 look like typical lads from your own street, nothing special, probably seriously into comics and with a good knowledge of weird films and strange records, but the secret is in their music. Having heard several of their releases prior to this Fire LP, the thoughts of more trippy antics and mesmerising lyrics didn’t become as inviting as it should have been. Playing With Fire is different, though.

The musical minimalism is there, the spoken prose and poems, the repetitive guitar riffs, the organ on a rebound, it all goes to make Spacemen 3 quite alarmingly different. Playing With Fire is a hypnotic trance, telling tales of being dropped in and out of reality and invoking the kind of flickering pictures that occur in so many of the best people’s nightmares.

If any reference points are needed to persuade would-be astronauts that they should sample these aliens’ brand of weightlessness, and discover the closest thing to beatnik awareness since labelmates Blue Aeroplanes’ most evocative moment, then here are a few. How about the sound of barrel-organ minimalism, Tom Waits on high tech TV, Nico collapsed with machines breaking down, or the mellowest and rarest 60s artefact plucked from obscurity? That’s just a small fraction of what Spacemen 3 are getting at.

As I said, just three guys with wild imaginations and all the usual stuff. Pretty frightening really, it just kinda means that anyone out there could be capable of doing the unexpected. Wow! Yeah… like wow!

Lance Johnson (Sounds?)