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Somewhat overlooked at the time, Amazing Grace is possibly the heaviest and most intimate Spiritualized record. A wild collection of blazing garage rock songs and beautifully tender, sometimes devastatingly sad, ballads. They are songs that reach for help from a broken place, ragged and lonely, in love with a world hanging by a thread. The feeling of the gospel standard that inspired the title – “through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come” – hangs like a shadow over the whole record, and J Spaceman’s heart and soul lies very close to the microphone. Absolute nihilism bleeds through the opening song “This Little Life of Mine”: “This little life of mine / I’m gonna let it slide / I’m gonna let it burn / I’m getting sick of trying.” In “The Ballad of Richie Lee”, a lament to the late Acetone singer, we have maybe the most brutally sad moment of the entire Spiritualized catalog: “He’s got his name on a rock again / And this time it’s the last”. Then, out of the blackest nights of the soul, beautiful hymns appear, odes to falling in love and staying in love. Songs like “Hold On”, “Oh Baby” and “Rated X” where we “Put your hand in my hand and maybe we’ll forget / That life had even started before the day we met.” The recording of Amazing Grace was fast and experimental, executed in three weeks at Rockfield Studios in Wales. Spaceman would present the band with an idea for each song on the day of recording, and they would experiment until it felt right. The core musicians,John Coxon, Tony Foster and Tim Lewis were players au fait with the abstract and experimental, finding the sweet spots where The Stooges meet Arvo Part, where Patsy Cline meets 13th Floor Elevators and Aretha Franklin is down with Miles Davis’ Get Up With It. The result of this method is a polar opposite to the symphonic grandeur of its predecessor Let It Come Down but more powerful in its emotional impact.
More on the reissue from a conversation between Andy Capper and J. Spaceman: This record really stands out as the rawest Spiritualized record. How do you feel about that? J Spaceman: It was almost the opposite of what I'd been doing for the two albums that preceded it. We’d recorded Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space and Let it Come Down and we’d just pushed things out as far as they could go. And I wanted to make records that had a bit more space in them. The recording process was different. Yeah. None of the band heard the song until the morning of the recordings. After the Rockfield sessions we went back to London and overdubbed the Kenny Wheeler and Evan Parker parts, and the strings, the little quartet. But we did it almost immediately. It was like “we’re gonna put this down and that’s it.” The idea of the songs was we weren’t gonna keep chasing them forever. Which is almost the opposite of what we’d been doing for the two previous albums. It was kind of weird listening back to it again because I think it's successful and not in equal measures. The quieter songs are really special. Like “Oh Baby” and “Rated X”; they still occupy this odd place in time. We really captured something that was quite unique on those recordings. Like, some things you can capture immediately and it's not going to get much better than that. The heavier songs that you think will be easier to lay down fast, as good as they are on the record, actually ended up benefiting from having more time to develop. It’s weird how the record is your most overlooked, when it’s got some of your most powerful songs. Yeah. I mean, it was missed, wasn't it? It was just a kind of... nobody really gave it a chance. And the album title. You didn’t cover the song Amazing Grace for the record, but you can feel it’s presence... Yeah. The top of “Hold On” was part of a live recording of “Amazing Grace” that we made. So, I guess there was some kind of rooting for this album in that song. We were touring America, and we were talking about how a lot of American music came from Irish and Scottish roots (“Amazing Grace” was written in Donegal in 1773) as well as everything else that went into that melting pot of American music. There was a time when we were playing with that song, but I guess it didn't make it to the album. It didn't seem necessary.