The highs and lows of a drug trip - the story behind Spacemen 3's classic sophomore album The Perfect Prescription. Rugby's very own neo-psychedelia quartet consisted of a genius paring, Jason Pierce and Peter Kember. They were backed up by bassist Pete Bain and drummer Rosco, for what was an eventful 1987. It was during Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up" five weeks chart topping stint, that saw the release of The Perfect Prescription. But first, here's the back story.
Influenced by garage rock, noise rock, and psychedelic rock; Pierce and Kember started re-creating music. Two decades in particular, the psychedelic 60s - The Red Krayola / The 13th Floor Elevators, and the punk 70s - Suicide / MC5. I'll go as far to say that Spacemen 3's influence on modern music is far greater than the influences on their formation. Today, bands from all around the world cite Spacemen 3 above My Bloody Valentine. The Fender Telecasters and Rickenbackers of Spacemen 3's past opened up the technophobe's obsession with equipment, and as Spacemen 3 progressed, so did the guitars and the shoegaze scene they were ever so close to - Fender Jaguar. The Perfect Prescription was released before Daydream Nation and Loveless, it's a pinnacle rock album that paved the way for Ride, Loop, Galaxie 500, and Mercury Rev.
The Perfect Prescription is a concept album from start to finish. It never sways from its core musical and lyrical interests - drugs. The drug trip has been expressed through 60s psychedelic music, and Spacemen 3 were not afraid to discuss their use of recreational drugs. It splashed down on their debut album Sound of Confusion with "Losing Touch With My Mind". The use of hard-core drugs has always been associated with Spacemen 3, and by referencing drug use on The Perfect Prescription, they answered the soft core critics with an experience. Driving suits out of venues as the decibel levels reached new highs. It was intensified by the album opener, "Take Me To The Other Side" - still performed by Spiritualized to this day. The four and a half minutes of pure psychedelic passion introduced The Perfect Prescription to the concept, it starts with the want, the need for drugs, to take them to the other side. Pierce sings: "I have a passion sweet Lord, and it just won't go away. I have it each and every day Lord, sure as the sun comes up each day." Pierce's obsession with a spiritual being is no coincidence, his drug talking "Take Me To The Other Side" was envisioned two decades prior to its conception - "When I'm rushing on my run, and I feel just like Jesus' son." / "Heroin, be the death of me. Heroin, it's my wife and it's my life, because a mainline into my vein, leads to a centre in my head, And then I'm better off than dead." - "Heroin" from The Velvet Underground & Nico.
Spacemen 3 elevates the listener, as the drug trip continues. "Walkin' With Jesus" begins with a stark two chord organ, repeating itself throughout in a holy manner. The organ has forever been associated with church, the perfect instrument to take the listener through Pierce/Kember's trip. This track, in particular the organ, influenced Palma Violets, who took the powerful two chord organ riff for "Step Up For The Cool Cats". An influence to many, it’s easy to see why Spacemen 3 are noted as a key band in 80s alternative rock. Theirs a cool edge, a sigh of relief when listening to Spacemen 3. Then there’s the angst, powerful distortion that features from time to time. The Perfect Prescription features all aspects of Spacemen 3's sounds, outlining them with the concept, like a bar chart. "Walkin' With Jesus" is the melodic high ground, the beginning of their trip. It's aligned with "Ode To Street Hassle", referencing Lou Reed's album of the same name. Kember sings, which is more spoken word than anything. Again, it's a possible reference to Reed, who has used spoken word techniques throughout his career. Kember talks of "Walkin With' Jesus", in a vision like manner. Quoting the previous track, Kember makes "Ode To Street Hassle" sound like the beginning to a dream.
With the nine minute "Ecstasy Symphony / Transparent Radiation (Flashback)" you get that dream. It's one of Spacemen 3's optimum recordings, finding itself tracked perfectly on The Perfect Prescription - right at the heart of the story. Reaching the high of their trip, Spacemen 3 evoke this sensual feeling by covering The Red Krayola. The nine minute piece is like a predecessor to post-rock. The gentle violin has been used to show a peaceful setting. Everything about this thrilling peace is spectacular. Theirs eerie synthesizers, reverberated rhythm guitar, and a simplistic cover, all conveying the underlining power and energy of being high. It marks a change on The Perfect Prescription, from the taking of drugs to the passenger. United by the following track "Feel So Good", with its highly applicable title. Pierce and Kember sing a duet, both singing the same lyrics, but with Kember taking over the sharper vocals: "Lord I feel so fine, takes me out of my mind." When rock musicians implement brass instruments it's usually somewhat of faux pas. Spacemen 3 included a trumpet on "Feel So Good" and it wraps the track together. It's a slow, relaxing track that denotes the 'quiet before the storm' feeling that's inevitable.
"Thing'll Never Be The Same" marks the abrasive turn. It opens with a brash guitar solo, with meaningful connotations. This represents the harsh reality of a fairy tale drug saga turned sour. It's the moment Spacemen 3 revel in - noise. This track is the most distorted and vigorous on The Perfect Prescription, still nothing compared to their past and future releases. Pierce sings: "We'll put some love deep in our veins, somewhere in our hearts, things won't be the same." His vague drug tolerating descriptions sway from reality, this empowering track turns the tide in Spacemen 3 history.
Think of Bob Dylan now as we continue on our journey through space rock. Yes, that may be confusing and slightly arousing to some, however when Spacemen 3 paid homage to Dylan's "In My Time of Dyin'" on the seventh track "Come Down Easy", I’m sure they never had folk in mind. The glorious sound of a shimmering acoustic guitar has long been associated with the Southern folk / blues - Lead Belly, Charley Patton, and Robert Johnson. Dylan's twang influenced Spacemen 3 for their easing off track. Opening with a slippery bass lick, "Come Down Easy" commands the blues. "In 1987 all I wanna do is fly All I want for you to do is reach up to the sky," Pierce sings, opening the proceedings. He goes on to sing: "In 1987 all I wanna do is get stoned, all I want for you to do is take my body home." Pierce's vocal has been layered, creating this cave-esque echo. It's Pierce searching for his soul - as there lyrics suggest: "Lord I'm gonna shake it, lord I'm gonna make it, sure I'm gonna take it, ‘cos I feel, yeah I feel, alright."
Shrouded in mystery and confusion, The Perfect Prescription ends with "Call The Doctor". It doesn’t take a genius to realise what this track is about. The dark reverberated rhythmic guitar signals the sorry end to Spacemen 3's drug trip. Kember sings: "Call the doctor pretty baby, you know I'm near to my last breath. You'd better hurry now honey, or you're gonna be my death. You'd better throw away the spoons and all the other dirty things, cos when the law arrives this evening, I don't think they'll wait and ring." Like the psychiatric drug recovery scenes in Trainspotting, "Call The Doctor" reveals a treacherous story of an overdose and its social stigmas. It comes alive, as Kember sings the album defining lyrics: "Hey there's the door now pretty baby, see who's on the other side, tell them to back up with the wagon now, I think I'm going for a ride." The reference to "Take Me To The Other Side" is inverted. Kember's link to the opposite side of the album stands out as The Perfect Prescription's coup de grâce. There's a tenacious stalemate between figure A - the drugs, and figure B - Spacemen 3. No outcome is decided as "Call The Doctor" closes with powerful lyrics: "Tell them I did it to myself babe, and I lived a life of sin, tell them black ain't always white babe, and without sure ain't within."
Every drug related angle is explored on The Perfect Prescription. Its core focus is in no way hidden through obscure messages, Pierce / Kember have truly written a psychedelic masterpiece. Reading the track titles will tell you the story vividly, but the lyrics within are outstanding. Kember's spoken word voice is menacing, whereas Pierce's, as with his Spiritualized discography, sounds angelic. That's what Pierce / Kember wanted to get out of The Perfect Prescription, which by the way is the best album title of the 80s. They wanted to tear the album in half. Side A is the high, featuring simplistic rhythms and organ riffs. Remember, the organ is related to religion - perceived as the good / high. Then there's the complex and dissonant side B. No organ, no sacred Pierce vocal, just the pure grit of a downward spiral drug trip. They convey the perfect prescription drug, in the eyes of drug taking citizens. In 1987, Spacemen 3 released one of the best neo-psychedelia albums this country has seen. 30 years on and The Perfect Prescription is still a cult underground classic.