Spacemen 3 – Playing With Fire

Tension in a band can be a glorious thing. Rather like debut albums can encapsulate what bands really are all about. The sound of a band on their death kneels can also produce and inspire the very best in them.

As far as i’m concerned this is Spacemen 3’s last proper release. Recurring is essentially two solo albums? No?

Honey (Kember) has an almost warped religious sound. An organ and a light sonic guitar set its pace. Sonic Booms vocal is basic but very effective. Waves of altered guitar float by. It sounds fried, altered, psychedelic .

Come Down Softly To My Soul (Pierce) continues the vein of Honey. The songwriting sees the two artists sound very similar. It is very light yet sounds like pure psychedelia from the 60’s.

How Does It Feel? (Kember) sees the bar go up several notches. A spoken intro with a somber tone is added to by waving guitar drone. Finger picked guitar adds to the drone. Bass adds next. It builds. Minimal yet always sounding like it could go full on at any time the track holds off creating a cinematic soundscape. A gentle processional drum finally enters. It continues to build and build. Waves pass you ears. After the mood setting opening two tracks it does sound like Spacemen 3 are about to start Playing With Fire.

I Believe It (Kember) sees gospel themes reappear. The Velvet Underground are hinted at. Primal Scream are cantered by with complete ease. It’s a mellow offering whereby the band sound sincerely messed up but right on it.

Revolution (Kember) sounds like The Stooges on many levels. It does not however ape them. The sound is pure Spacemen 3. A riff that would fill alternative dancefloors in seconds opens Revolution.  White Noise but accessible, a rare feat.

The track builds with real threat before it settles after a minute and a half. Sonic Boom’s lyric captures pissed off youth so well and manages to sound like a firm belief, again, a rare feat. 1989 was the last time I can recall youth actually sensing forms of revolution being possible – in any sense. Acid House was hovering. Spacemen 3, although not in any way a dance outfit had certain qualities that leftfield acid house followers could appreciate if they so wished.

Lyrically Revolution near cynically suggests you look at yourself. You’re sick of things. Do something about it.

Hold on a second

I smell burning

And I see a change

Coming around the bend

And I suggest to you

That it takes just five seconds

Just five seconds of decision

To realise

That the time is right 

To start thinking about

A little


Poetic and with a clear mindset message. Either do it or shut up. Or a the least be pissed off and write a classic song. Reading just the words could suggest foolishness – but coupled with the sonic blast as these lines are delivered  it becomes a real musical force. A track that should make neck hairs flex – if you’re alive you should feel this.

Let Me Down Gently (Kember) sees the subtlety return. As minimal as it gets. the organ burns a beautiful soundscape.

So Hot (Wash Away All My Tears) (Pierce) sees Pierce deliver a soothing contrasting vocal to Sonic Boom. For a minimal piece it achieves more than it really should.

Playing with Fire is either sonically blasting you with control and purpose or lulling the listener with its healing soothing works. The band unleash the masterstroke with Suicide (Kember / Pierce). As the song credit suggests, Pierce and Kember when writing together can summon astonishing sounds. No coincidence that Suicide is the only duel credit on Playing With Fire.

Suicide throbs. Scorching layered waves of guitar held by a meandering, purposeful bass. The drum tightly shuffles. I never saw Spacemen 3 play live. If I had done so I strongly imagine this track would be the one that would have people freaking out. You get drawn into a deeply hypnotic psychedelic drone. Wave upon wave flow without it ever overdoing it. The merge and lock it has is very powerful. Hard to do it justice with mere words.

Lord Can You Hear Me? (Pierce) outros Playing with Fire. After Suicide you need it. The track is healing and cries out for its own healing. You can sense the drugs without the band ever directly referencing them. It sounds scorched. Damaged. Yet beautiful, gospel, truly psychedelic and timeless.

Playing With Fire is a slab of pure psychedelia from a time when the genre was not on the agenda. The band fitted other artists at the time (Mudhoney?) but stood uniquely on their own. They did not change direction and with their 3rd album created an album that I consider to be one of the best 20 albums i’ve ever heard.


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