Spacemen 3 – Sound Of Confusion, The Perfect Prescription and Performance (coloured vinyl reissues)

Spacemen 3 (now back in colour)

Spacemen 3 vinyl (now back in colour)

Spacemen 3’s catalogue has suffered from repeated reissue/repackage exploitation over the years. Previously such treatment largely capitalised on those seeking the originals of key songs that had an afterlife through co-founder Jason Pierce choosing to play them live with the more successful yet now increasingly irrelevant Spiritualized. However, the canon is now inviting refreshed interest from a different angle.

This time around it’s come from the swelling legions of drone/space/psyche-rock fans, hooked on latter-day Spacemen disciples such as Wooden Shjips, Moon Duo, Cloudland Canyon and Psychic Ills (some of whom interestingly have employed the studio/remix services of Pete ‘Sonic Boom’ Kember, the less famous but no less influential other co-founder of Spacemen 3).  So whilst most of Spacemen 3’s wares have remained in print on CD across Fire Records and the Kember-affiliated Space Age Recordings, the increasing appetite for more of the discography on vinyl is being sated with a new serving of coloured pressings on Fire Records, starting with the band’s first three albums (with more hinted to follow in due course).  The question is though, how do these LPs fare in their revived 2013 context?

Spacemen 3 - Sound Of Confusion

Spacemen 3 – Sound Of Confusion

Originally appearing on Glass Records in 1986, Spacemen 3’s official debut long-player, Sound Of Confusion, has suffered somewhat in comparison to the early non-album recordings released before and after it, notably across the band’s early EPs and on archive-raiding collections such as the infamously-titled demo tape set Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To.  Not that Sound Of Confusion is a shoddy start to the official long-playing story, it’s just that its monosyllabic aesthetic, its use of Pierce as the only vocalist, its restrictive selection of songs and its premature penchant for self-indulgence make it the least ‘go-to’ record in the Spacemen 3 discography.  That said, as a statement of intent in sheer bloody-mindedness, this first studio LP retains a forceful presence that benefits from being cranked-up on a re-pressed analogue medium that makes its unrepentant murkiness sprawl-out over a wall of relentless two-chord chugging.  The key influences on the nascent Spacemen 3 sound are unashamedly acknowledged; with The Stooges being covered directly (with a solid stab at “Little Doll”) and imitated elsewhere (“Losing Touch With My Mind” and “Hey Man”), via the 13th Floor Elevators being plundered on a drawn-out makeover of “Rollercoaster” and through the likes of The Velvet Underground and MC5 being channelled spiritually across almost everything.  Whilst it can be a tiring listen, the necessity for a half-time flip-over on this new slab of vinyl actually aides its digestion considerably.

Spacemen 3 - The Perfect Prescription

Spacemen 3 – The Perfect Prescription

After expunging most of the primordial and thuggish live-centric material on Sound Of Confusion, the deeper studio explorations of 1987’s The Perfect Prescription document both the great leap forward and the blueprint for the rest of Pierce and Kember’s careers during and after Spacemen 3 (and indeed for the many artists inspired by the band subsequently).  Whilst there are moments where the raw drive of its predecessor breaks through again (“Take Me To The Other Side” and “Things’ll Never Be The Same”), it’s more focused and finessed, with space still left for more sophisticated pieces.  Following a layered yet minimalist path that has aged well and with Kember sharing vocal duties with Pierce, the album is a diverse and characterful declaration of artistic ambition.  Outside of voicing the aforementioned garage-rock fired tracks, Pierce excels elsewhere by heading-up a drum-free and uncontrived gospel-slanted version of the frequently reworked “Walkin’ With Jesus” and the bluesy electro-acoustic swing of “Come Down Easy.”  Whilst Kember’s flatter vocal tones are more limited in range he impresses with lead turns on the ’70s Lou Reed homage “Ode To Street Hassle,” the serene string/drone soaking of The Red Krayola’s “Transparent Radiation” and the nocturnal prowl of “Call The Doctor.”  Overall, The Perfect Prescription is undoubtedly the first true gold nugget in the Spacemen 3 catalogue and one that should always remain in print in one format or another.

Spacemen 3 - Performance

Spacemen 3 – Performance

Despite a fierce live reputation and the plethora of on-stage recordings available, there is perhaps not one truly definitive Spacemen 3 live release in existence.  In the past, consequently, 1988’s Performance has struggled with sounding like a somewhat flat, perfunctory and bootleg-like audio postcard from an Amsterdam show on The Perfect Prescription tour.  Somehow though, this re-cut vinyl version of the live LP has given it a renewing vibrancy, with the vintage recording now spreading-out with a more cavernous and enveloping feel.  Whilst well-worn cosmic rock covers from the contemporary set-lists dominate the tracklist (“Mary-Anne,” “Rollercoaster,” “Come Together” and “Starship”) the band remould them to fit cohesively next to the self-penned songs.  On the originals front, the key back-to-back sequence of “Things’ll Never Be The Same” and “Take Me To The Other Side” is relentlessly towering yet still sustains the subtly and purpose found in the studio environs of The Perfect Prescription.  The collection closes with an organ-buzzing and languid guitar take on “Walkin’ With Jesus,” which may not be the definitive interpretation but it serves as a well-measured cooling comedown after the amp-cooking heat that comes before it.  Unexpectedly then, this rejuvenated version of Performance is quite possibly the pick of this regrown Spacemen 3 vinyl crop.

Fire Records