Neuroscientists may be able to explain why particular sounds or smells link so strongly to certain memories. I’m sure we all have scents that bring back huge waves of childhood nostalgia: some for me are kippers frying on hotplates at a harbourside fete (an immensely salty tang); ginger beer (I was very fond of this as a wee lad) and Fisherman’s Friends (ditto). Music is obviously immensely powerful in this area, so much so that trashy albums remain popular through the power of association rather than any musical qualities. Why else would I remain fond of Skid Row‘s Slave To The Grind and Motley Crue‘s Girls Girls Girls?
One album with particular memory-associative powers for me is Lazer Guided Melodies by Spiritualized. Perhaps less well-known and under-rated in comparison to their masterpiece, Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating In Space, it’s an album arranged in four suites or movements, each of several separate sections. Musically, it is exemplary early-Spiritualized, with floaty, dreamy, shimmering textures, droning, repetitious melodies, implied rhythms, soft understated vocals, and a processed and digitised production taking off the rough edges even on the strongest-hitting of sections. The druggy implications are pretty obvious, though there’s nothing overtly psychedelic, no talk of “gnomes” or “witches hat sitting on her head like a paraffin stove”. Rather, it’s dreamy, spacy, blissed out.
You can hear a fine example of all this here:
A sparkling arpeggio intro leading to a repetitive guitar-shard, under which a mobile bass-guitar melody suggests deep, anxious feelings hidden by an unchanging exterior – with releases of tension dramatised by the horns, though the underlying anxiety of the bass and guitar continue on. The build-up and release of tension, of course, are key aspects of sex, music and drugs (especially opiates); though there’s nothing overtly sexual here, there’s a sensuality to some of the music, while the druggy aspects are more pronounced, with some of the music verging on the unsettling. While Ladies and Gentlemen would make the painkilling, soothing aspect of the drug experience explicit, there’s surely an aspect of that here already – a recurring feeling of strife and discomfort soothed over, or an unsuccessful attempt to soothe over pain and anguish.
This all seemed fairly resonant with me at the time. In the summer of 2000, I had just graduated and had to face the fact that I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Although I had been moderately successful as a student, gaining a 2:1, I hadn’t succeeded in getting what I thought was a “good job” after rebuffs following final interviews with the Big 5 consultancies, the civil service etc. I’d been close, but not good enough: I had vainly imagined that I would swan into a good job and live happily ever after in some nebulous future, in the same way as I’d been successful all the way through my educational career. But it seemed the real world was a rather tougher place, and this unnerved me. Similarly, I’d moved into an apartment with a friend, anticipating finding a job of at least some kind soon enough – again, erroneously, and bills soon began to pile up. I signed on with a mixture of weary resignation and sneering superiority from wounded pride. I was lovelorn and single, but also depressed and poor; numerous romantic rebuffs also took their toll, stripping my confidence and souring my attitude. I had ambitions to write, but had no idea of any way to use this productively; I even, in an attempt to stop being so over-analytical and self-conscious, gave up my habit of keeping a journal. At the time it seemed like a good idea; in retrospect it seems like I was running away from myself, trying to escape from a present around which ominous clouds were gathering.
This all seemed perfectly suited by Lazer Guided Melodies. It soothed, but was foreboding; it was dreamy and captivating; it was intense yet oddly relaxing. There was none of the surface agony of Ladies and Gentlemen, but it was just as emotional. And it seemed to capture my mood perfectly.
(Other key albums of that moment were Rhythm and Stealth by Leftfield and The Contino Sessions by Death In Vegas – both equally dark and foreboding. The road I was on seems pretty clear, in retrospect).