Tuesday, April 5, 2011

#44 Spacemen 3-Playing With Fire


Artist: Spacemen 3
Album: Playing With Fire
Label: Fire
Year: 1988

Ah, Playing With Fire: the finest moment from one of the finest groups of all-time. Playing With Fire is superb because Spacemen 3 prior to this album had spent six or so years on the same set of songs. Everything from their earliest demos to seminal album The Perfect Prescription featured the same songs done and re-done over again. After laying down the definitive versions of those songs though, the duo went back to the studio with a very different approach than the one that had produced the preceding record. What they created was an absolute masterpiece that defines the band: able to lift from so much that came before and really make it something that is uniquely theirs.
Fans of Spacemen 3 might know that The Perfect Prescription almost was much different than it ended up, and the original album was a polished, heavily produced beast (this original version was released in the mid-2000s as Forged Prescriptions. The band opted to strip-down the album towards the end to ensure it was a better representation of their live sound. But that didn't happen on Playing With Fire, and the production ends up being one of the highlights of the record. It allowed for layers of guitars on the quieter tracks like "Come Down Softly To My Soul" and beautiful vocal overdubs on "Honey." Yet with all the production put into it, the most amazing thing about the album is how stripped down it is.
Just listen to "I Believe It." The song has an organ and a flute and tambourine...and then just a light guitar at the end. It is a good indicator of how Spacemen 3 like to experiment: with less and less and less. Previous Spacemen 3 songs and albums were definitively indebted to the sound and song structure of old blues songs...but there is very little traditional song structure on this album (possibly due to Sonic Boom's penning of the majority of the songs...J Spaceman's tracks still fit that mold to a degree). "Revolution" rocks hard on one chord for the majority of the time. "Suicide" is ten minutes of two chords and is absolutely brilliant throughout. The whole album really features so little going on, yet everything that makes up every song is so effective, it works beautifully.
Of course, there is a lot regrettable about the album. For one thing, the live version of "Suicide" from Performance is better and is absolutely astonishing, kind of lessening the effect of the album version (I've included it in the download below). In addition, this is the beginning of the end for the band: where the two lead songwriters/singers began to fade as friends and as working partners. They'd release one more album before breaking up. But the music they produced is indisputably brilliant, and never was that more the case than on Playing With Fire.

Spacemen 3-Playing With Fire

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