Playing God
Spiritualized: Amazing Grace

i've never been much of a singles person; growing up in a town with no record store, rarely buying music on trips out of town, albums seemed like the natural choice to me. The longer the better, more bang for the buck and all that.

So as much as I've loved previous installments of Playing God, I won't be bringing in B-sides and the like to fill out Amazing Grace, Spiritualized's recent, relatively maligned album. I'm not actually aware of what they might be. And besides, the only real problem Amazing Grace has isn't the quality of the songs; it's that it has the misfortune of being possibly the worst-sequenced album I’ve ever heard.

I actually hated it on first listen; having the last five songs consist of four relatively quiet, slow songs and one more upbeat on killed the momentum the first half had built up stone dead, and putting the quasi-free jazz instrumental “The Power And The Glory” slap-bang in the middle didn't work either. Eventually I came to love all of the songs, and to get used to the order they were in, but still Amazing Grace just doesn't flow well. So I started fiddling around with it… All the original tracks are still present in my amended listing; they're just in a different order, so all you need to enjoy this version is a programmable CD player.

01. Rated X (originally track 10)

“Rated X” seemed like the biggest mistake on my initial hearing of Amazing Grace, starting with a good minute of what sounded like tuning up and ending with two minutes of the same thing. It was originally put directly before the similarly paced closer, which was idiotic. But the bit in between is beautiful, and the lines "So put your hand in my hand/And maybe we'll forget/That life had even started/Before our hands had met" are repeated in what will eventually be my closer. Even the tuning part makes sense if the song is a prelude to the record, rather than a break in the action. Plus the end lulls you into a peaceful calm, ready for...

02. This Little Life Of Mine (originally track 1)

…this to shatter. One of the most determinedly ugly songs Pierce has ever recorded, not loud necessarily, but ugly. I remember hoping the first time I heard this that his voice wouldn't sound like it does here for the rest of the album. It's important to keep “This Little Life Of Mine” near the beginning of the album as it is a statement of intent, highlighting the fact that even moreso than on past efforts Pierce is determined to resist outside interference in the way he leads his life, whether from God or man. The way he gleefully snarls "Ain't gonna take good care of it, baby, it's mine" recalls "The Twelve Steps" from Let It Come Down, and here again he insists that if he wants to ruin his own life, he should be allowed to.

03. Hold On (originally track 3)

The only track to keep it's original position, the burst of noise that opens this track fits in with the end of 'This Little Life Of Mine' but carries a very different message. Once everything subsides we find ourselves in one of the delicate ballads that populate a good third of Amazing Grace, and one of the tracks where Pierce could easily be using 'baby' literally to refer to his daughter. Here he's urging her to remember that "Death cannot take what you've already lost" and reminding her that "Hell's not below us, or Heaven above". This is easily Spiritualized's most anti-God album, and because Pierce has lost all fear of divine retribution, he wants us to focus on our lives here and now. After another quick burst, the song ends with a quiet final chorus.

04. She Kissed Me (It Felt Like A Hit) (originally track 2)

Of course, not all of the songs here are about religion. The most succinct expression of Pierce's perennial drugs=love and vice versa school of songwriting, this is one of the songs that emphasizes doing what feels good whether it's right or not. Sonically it's a close cousin to Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space's 'Electricity', which means although it's pretty thrilling, it's also one of the lesser tracks here. The title is a nice pun on gruesome oldie “He Hit Me (It Felt Like A Kiss)”, though.

05. Lord Let It Rain On Me (originally track 7)

The most obviously anti-God track here. I'd hesitate to qualify Pierce as an atheist, as it seems he does believe in God; Pierce just doesn't like Him very much. In his stubborn resistance of God, especially in the end of the chorus (the defiant "I've got a little knowledge, Lord, I'm about ready now") Pierce reminds me a bit of the characters in Garth Ennis' Preacher series. That “Lord Let It Rain On Me” is also his most effective use of a choir in ages doesn't exactly hurt, either, and even if you're a believer the chorus is very hummable.

06. Cheapster (originally track 9)

Might as well toss in the other most explicit anti-God track here, Pierce joyfully sneering "You can lay the law out, baby, but I don't think I'll obey" over a great organ sound in this quick little rave up. Interesting in all the ways “She Kissed Me (It Felt Like A Hit)” really wasn't, even if I'm not sure what the title refers to. It's also includes the word "for-fucking-get" in the lyrics, which is worth bonus points.

07. Oh Baby (originally track 4)

The problem of balancing an album that, like Amazing Grace, consists of mainly songs belonging to one of two extremes, is that you don't just want to seesaw back and forth (although that does work); but if you do put all of the fast songs together, for example, you raise the momentum to the extent that you eventually wind up killing it. So coming down the homestretch we bring in the slow-but-loud one; “Oh Baby” being another possible missive to his daughter, another attempt to prepare her for life in the cruel world. The wordless end is also the most sweeping, epic thing on the record, slowly receding finally into the calm of our next track.

08. Lay It Down Slow (originally track 11)

“Lay It Down Slow” was a fine closer to the original version of Amazing Grace, a compassionate, minimal (by Pierce's standards) song about sharing your pain with loved ones to reduce it's sting. It also concludes with the second finest guitar work on the album, not roaring or surging as with most Spiritualized tracks, but simple and beautiful. But our closer has to be where it is, and “Lay It Down Slow” doesn’t, so instead it serves as an introduction to the final quarter of the album.

09. The Power And The Glory (originally track 6)

The only instrumental here, the same basic progression over and over, on guitar and horns, underneath a squalling bed of horns. The title is, of course, sarcastic. Didn't work in the center of the album, but here it leads into the last two tracks nicely.

10. Never Goin' Back (originally track 5)

A mutant cousin of the Stooges' “I Wanna Be Your Dog”, the most rocking song here, and the one that most fulfills the pre-release 'garage rock' tags. It's another gleeful one, like “She Kissed Me (It Felt Like A Hit)” and “Electricity” it's about a woman Pierce probably shouldn't be hanging around with, who "should have been sold with a warning attached", but he'll be damned if he cares. A last burst of energy for Amazing Grace before the final track.

11. The Ballad Of Richie Lee (originally track 8)

This song is almost unutterably sad. Every time I take the bus to school by myself the lines "My soul is weak/My eyes are blind/The fire that drove me on/Is nothing more than dust and ash/The day my friend was gone" and that falling guitar line get lodged into my head. Even when I'm having a good day this song, and especially Pierce's none-more-wasted delivery of the lyrics, just reduces me to nothing. The lines "So put your hand in my hand/And maybe we'll forget/That life had even started/Before our hands had met" are reprised to a different melody and the third recurring element on Amazing Grace, besides agnostic defiance and fatherly advice, rears it's head: a desire for oblivion in the face of sorrow. Unlike Ladies And Gentlemen..., however, that takes the form not of heroin addiction, but shared grief. Despite the slight spark of hope here, though, you can't follow “The Ballad Of Richie Lee” with anything. Recovery time is needed.

By: Ian Mathers
Published on: 2003-11-04
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