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Playing With Fire (Double Disc Version)

Spacemen 3

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Album Review

Appropriately preceded by the mind-melting crunch of the "Revolution" single, Playing With Fire proved to be the end of Spacemen 3 as a functioning band, but in truly spectacular fashion. Exploring both the depths of serene, agog beauty and sheer tape-shredding chaos, Playing With Fire pushed the extremes of The Perfect Prescription to an even further edge. It's little surprise that Pierce and Sonic couldn't find themselves properly working together after it, but even less that hordes of bands to follow would rank Playing With Fire as the equal (or better) of psychedelia's '60s and '70s forebears. Sonic himself is quoted in one reissue's liner notes as feeling the album "was the refining point of a lot of my theories on minimalism being maximalism" — as apt a description as any. One of his songs, "How Does It Feel?," sums it up by using a series of notes echoing off into the distance, again and again. With future Spiritualized bassist Will Carruthers in place of Baines, the trio (and uncredited drummer) created glazed, liquid songs with subtle arrangements and sheer reveling in aural joys. Flange is everywhere, as is echo, full dynamic stereo mixes and more, a feast of sound. When aiming toward a gentler, hushed sound, most notably on Pierce's compositions, the incorporation of gospel power filtered through the band's own perspective results in wonders, as heard on "Come Down Softly to My Soul" and the album closing "Lord Can You Hear Me?" As for the louder end of things, besides the awesome "Revolution" itself, a slow burn blast that just keeps getting more and more obsessive and frenetic as it goes, Sonic calling for a release of energy in a mere five seconds, the other complete freak-out is "Suicide." An instrumental tribute to the New York synth pioneers, Spacemen 3 keep the minimalism and up the feedback with astonishing results. Initial re-pressings of the album in the mid-'90s included tracks from the Revolution and Threebie singles. [An elaborate reissue in 1999 included a full, extra disc of demos and rarities, including covers of the Perfect Disaster's "Girl on Fire" and the Troggs' "Anyway That You Want Me" — eventually Spiritualized's first single.]

Biography

Formed: 1982 in Rugby, England

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '80s, '90s

Spacemen 3 were psychedelic in the loosest sense of the word; their guitar explorations were colorfully mind-altering, but not in the sense of the acid rock of the '60s. Instead, the band developed its own minimalistic psychedelia, relying on heavily distorted guitars to clash and produce their own harmonic overtones; frequently, they would lead up to walls of distortion with overamplified acoustic guitars and synths. Often the band would jam on one chord or play a series of songs, all in the same...
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