Published on June 4th, 2020 | by Noah Dimitrie0
“Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space” by Spiritualized Is Our Classic Track of the Week
Another week, another classic track review. This week we look at Spiritualized’s 1997 song about love and loneliness, which spurned a lawsuit from Elvis Presley’s estate.
Few bands begin an album by announcing themselves so candidly. But Spiritualized were never your mother’s atmospheric shoegaze/dream pop/post rock crossover. The titular track from their now legendary 1997 album Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space, wastes no time in declaring its thesis. A suitably lo-fi, achingly distant recording of a female voice opens the track with the song title’s elegiac declaration. It is stylized as a hostess’ intercom announcement but replaces an airplane with a spaceship. She very calmly, almost seductively informs the passengers that they are all “floating in space.” It feels more like a comforting reassurance rather than a desperate warning. Something along the lines of: “You can all relax. All those worries you’ve been hanging on to don’t matter. We’re all just floating in space.”
The song’s transition into its central melody is slow and steady. The idea to invoke the astronautical theme right away helps to characterize the song’s growing instrumentation. An otherworldly chord progression takes shape with Kate Radley’s keys. A resounding, expansive kick drum keeps it in pace and a thick vortex of cosmic atmosphere begins their ascent to crescendo.
Jason Pierce’s soft, vulnerable voice chants, “All I want in life’s a little bit of love to take the pain away.” He sings it with the kind of breezy tenor of a schoolboy. It’s intimate and personal, yet sort of quaint. Like a little mantra that has been stuck in his head. He continues “Getting strong today. A giant step each day.” What begins as a melancholy bout of self-pity transforms into a self-affirmation. His honesty in admitting his loneliness will, ideally, pale in comparison to his resilience. But the song’s lo-fi, spaced out dreaminess suggests a more powerless reality. It’s not really in his hands. He’s just floating in space.
The song evolves into a fascinating and powerful juxtaposition of the above melody with another, more familiar melody. Elvis Presley’s “Only Fools Rush In” is sampled within its other hook. It’s stunning how well those melodies coalesce. It’s the kind of pairing of two seemingly unrelated pieces of music that we normally attribute to the genius of hip hop producers and DJs. Imagine a kind of sad, indie version of Kanye’s juxtaposition of “21st Century Schizoid Man” in his song “Power.” Only imagine if he rapped directly over that sample.
The song had to be heavily edited upon the album’s initial release, due to the Presley estate’s general lack of artistic good will. They threatened to sue, which now seems juvenile and impulsive as the song wasn’t exactly a chart-topper. It wasn’t even the most popular song on the album, an album which, by the way, failed to reach the commercial success of the band’s peers like Radiohead and The Verve. It has only been redeemed over time with its cult status among stoners and general lonely-hearts like me. The Presley estate eventually allowed the use of “Fools Rush In” on the 2009 reissue which has now become THE version to listen to. The only caveat was that they had to add the parenthetical (I Can’t Help Falling In Love) to the already lengthy title.
The song’s various melodic moving parts swell to a resounding and quite resilient climax. Synths kind of warble through the chorus like flaming meteors throttling to Earth. Pierce croons, “I will love you ‘til I die. And I will love you all the time…” He kind of presents like a more burnt-out and desperate version of Say Anything’s Lloyd Dobbler. A hopeless romantic who has traded his boombox for a synthesizer and a telescope. The singer, who suffered a rough on-again, off-again relationship with heroin, offers up a plea for his love to just melt away with him forever, either strung up or sober. “So please put your sweet hand in mine. And float in space and drift in time.” He just wants to be accepted for who he is. We all do.
Its unclear if Pierce wrote this song before or after his breakup with keyboardist Kate Radley, who left him for Richard Ashcroft of The Verve. It may not really matter; Pierce is singing about the angst of love itself, whether you are in it or not. He is reaching out to the most primal parts of the human condition that feel the need to share their anxiety, their fears with someone else. He isn’t singing about his love so much as he is singing about love itself in its truest and rawest state. As we are reminded at the song’s beginning, we are all just “floating in space.” And just having “a little bit of love” to numb the pressure from that vacuum of space is all we can ask for. In life’s journey of aimless wandering from person to person, from feeling to feeling, what remains is that common thread of solitariness that binds us. It can’t be that lonely out there, if we are all truly floating together.