Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Spacemen 3 - Transparent Radiation e.p.

Spacemen 3
Transparent Radiation e.p.

Released 1987 on Glass
Reviewed by Jasonaparkes, 17/11/2007ce

1. Transparent Radiation (4:05)
2. Ecstasy Symphony (9:19)
3. Transparent Radiation (Flashback) (7:29)
4. Things’ll Never Be the Same (6:08)
5. Starship (11:28)

Tracks 2 and 4 by Kember/Pierce (also says track 1 on my sleeve, which can’t be right!). Track 3 by Thompson/Cunningham/Barthelme. Track 5 by The MC5/Sun Ra, and with a further credit to Kember/Pierce. Credits!!!

Spacemen 3:

Sonic Boom – guitar, feedback, vocals
Jason – guitar, farfisa, vocals
Bassman – bass vibrations
Rosco – percussion
Owen John – violins

Produced & arranged by Sonic & Jason.

…It was 1990 I first heard this e.p., the location was Reading Festival and it was about the second time I’d really smoked dope – good dope, good fun (as Lay Back in the Sun by Spiritualized was almost called). 1990 was an interesting time as it was a hedonistic period when music seemed to be everywhere; I was certainly listening wider than the dodgy grebo and gothic sounds that had dominated my record collection as a teen the preceding years. 1990 was a strange year and I remember listening to The Cramps, Loaded by Primal Scream, Rolled Gold by The Stones, Neil Young, Voodoo Ray, The Cardiacs, Ride, Birdland, The Jesus & Mary Chain, The Telescopes, 808 State, Cocteau Twins, Jane’s Addiction, Fields of the Nephilim, Lush, The Wonderstuff, David Bowie, Inspiral Carpets, Faith No More, Sonic Youth, Public Enemy, Depeche Mode, Happy Mondays, New Model Army (god forgive me!), Touched by the Hand of Ciccolini, James, The Wedding Present, Slowdive, Chapterhouse, The Byrds, The Fall (…and the list goes on).

THE PERFECT PRESCRIPTION. It was definitely a transitional period and I was beginning to chart new realms and possibilities…listening to dance music (previously unthinkable) now made sense, and the eclectic future lay ahead. It was possible to see a link between Stones’ songs like She’s a Rainbow, Sympathy for the Devil & We Love You and Loaded…though much of that period might seem dated now, it was interesting as I wasn’t really listening to much stuff like The Cure, The Sisters of Mercy & The Smiths. Soon everything would change (hearing the reissue of Kick Out the Jams the next year, “it takes just five seconds” to “Revolution”), largely due to getting a job in an Our Price where I got to hear much more…but at this point in time, I had only really heard Playing with Fire by Spacemen 3, which confused me (…later I would get it!). That long weekend in Reading would have been the place where I heard The Perfect Prescription for the first time and that weekend there seemed to be a much spacier blend of music played communally, everyone seemed to like that Lush mini-LP, Spacemen 3 and The Telescopes. Which certainly made some shoegazers…

C-90. I’m sure my first time smoking something illicit was just a few weeks previous and that time I’d really got excited over Loaded by Primal Scream…over that Reading weekend it was that merry feeling of new sensations and this e.p. was playing on a tape deck of a friend of a friend (…whose name I can’t recall). The friend of a friend had a mythical record collection and the C-90 playing contained several Spacemen 3 singles, the friend of a friend and our mutual friend Simon got very excited over the epic version of “Transparent Radiation” that was the first side of this e.p. – a short version of “Transparent Radiation” followed by the epic “Ecstasy Symphony”, and then the longer (Flashback)-version of “Transparent Radiation.” I’m not sure it was played more than once the whole weekend, but it seemed to nail that blessed out feeling of trying several things for a first time and feeling good about it, certainly the ideal soundtrack for a weekend or so of little sleep, endless laughter, sun, and all the fun you can smoke. “Feel so Good,” just like the Spacemen 3 song. I wonder if this could be one of those Proustian moments, or if it was just a good time where everything seemed OK (even though it wasn’t really OK, with Poll Tax in the air, the Balkans and Iraq ’91 developing and some problematic relationships in my own personal realm). But this was exciting stuff, I hadn’t heard anything like this at the time – though I guess a few MBV singles I’d picked up were close – it would be sometime before I heard The Velvets, The MC5, Sun Ra, Silver Apples & Suicide, which were the kind of reference points. I have always loved circular drone things, and that is probably down to exposure to Spacemen 3 under the right substances (…the perfect prescription!). I shall point out that I had to settle for the bonus cut version of The Perfect Prescription, as I couldn’t find the Transparent Radiation e.p. anywhere at the time…

TAKE ME TO THE OTHER SIDE. That first side still blows my mind, while the second one is enjoyable – the first explores that blessed out side of the band that would climax with Dreamweapon and Playing with Fire, while the second refines the classic Stooges/drone rock side of the band. “Things’ll Never Be the Same” is great stuff, taking that sound of confusion elsewhere, towards “Take Me to the Other Side” and “Revolution” – the cover of “Starship” sounds quite pleasant now, but nothing can beat the climax of Kick Out the Jams that blew my mind in 1991. But the first side…

RECURRING. The e.p. seems quite devalued these days, but back then it was a norm, and to be fair, bands who didn’t make great long players, often produced great stuff on an e.p. – Ride, for example, never topped those first e.p.’s (though I did like their first two albums – the notion of releasing four or five tracks is something that has slightly died, probably due to the death of a certain kind of indie and silly rules over what is a single (compare John Cale’s great 5 Tracks to the so-so longplayer relative HoboSapiens). As much as I love The Perfect Prescription and Playing with Fire and most of 1991’s posthumous Recurring (the Pierce side is a bit of a non-event, probably saving his better stuff for Spiritualized?), this e.p. feels like their greatest statement, containing pretty much everything about them in five tracks (O.K. the Krautrock climes of Big City are missing, but most everything else is there!).

APOCALYPSE NOW! “Transparent Radiation” is, of course, a song by The Red Krayola (a.k.a The Red Crayola) and stems from their Parable of Arable Land LP, a record I have never been sure whether to buy or not – since it has a mixed reputation and I have the notion it might be a period piece like a Fugs album that is all very well, but I’d never play? (I am tempted to get that reissue of it from last year, if anyone thinks I’m missing out, please let me know!). The opening version here, strangely credited to Kember & Pierce (see above), is quite different to the (Flashback) version, which fuses with the “Ecstasy Symphony” – the vocals from Sonic Boom seem slightly different, and I am reminded of a recent thread where someone pointed out he was the better vocalist. Too right man!! Lines like “my liquid head is open to the rain…” were truly psychedelic and suited this bluesy/Velvets approach, I thought it sounded like “The End” from Apocalypse Now! at the time. The four minutes have some wonderfully trippy blues inflections, subtle minimal stuff and more of Owen John’s violin towards the end – after four minutes it concludes, taking us to the next place…

ECSTASY. Which is the nine-minute plus “Ecstasy Symphony”, a wonderful minimal thing that still sounds wonderful, even though I have heard Music for 18 Musicians by Steve Reich since (feels very much like those subtle pulses to my ears!). The blissed drone and John’s classical violin come together, then Sonic Boom utters “I was wide awake in a dream” – beginning the thing that would come to fruition on Playing With Fire’s spellbinding How Does It Feel? (a kind of poem delivered by Sonic prior to addictive drone cycles). It’s a hard one to describe, a definite example of minimalism, and so good that Jason Pierce would compose “Symphony Space” for Lazer Guided Melodies by Spiritualized (very odd, as it’s hardly different there, apart from the song credits! Mr Boom would probably see it as a cover version, rumour has it I Want You by Spiritualized was a Spacemen 3 song penned by the Sonic one!). Very odd behaviour from Jason Spaceman (…as he would become) – did he forget that the same track had already been recorded by his previous band? (& I should point out that Pierce does like to re-record old Spacemen 3 songs, murdering “Lord, Can You Hear Me?” with over-production on Let It Come Down and doing a quite lovely version of “So Hot (Wash Away All of My Tears)” on Pure Phase. Lazy ****er!!). The drone stretches on, and around the seven-minute mark, Sonic Boom returns with his Laurie Anderson-style narration, “You know? It sounds like …(it sounds like)…ECSTASY!!! & it pulses on for a few minutes more before fusing with “Transparent Radiation (Flashback).” The song strips back to the style of the earlier version of “Transparent Radiation”, returning us to the place where we were at the start, but slightly differently with a more epic version. These three songs together blew my mind in a field in Reading in 1990, and still blow my mind whenever I play them, and I’m almost back there, and these songs sound like other people I’ve heard since and fresh and Spacemen 3.

TRANSPARENT RADIATION. The Transparent Radiation e.p. is probably the key Spacemen 3 release, pointing towards their late sound and their work that would follow afterwards: E.A.R., Sonic Boom, Spectrum & Spiritualized. Though both Boom and Pierce apart would create less exciting records, I have good memories of Boom’s solo debut and songs like Angel and Lonely Avenue, but found some of his other stuff less exciting. Spiritualized are frustrating, definitely some great moments and I seem to have most of their records, but some seem quite bombastic and they never quite match the critical jism spurted over them. Nothing as mind-blowing as this, one for the desert island, heaven, all time fave list, and all that jazz. The place it takes me feels to be a good one…

NOTE – The Transparent Radiation E.P. has been deleted for sometime now. There are a myriad of Spacemen 3 compilations where tracks from it recur – the Taang! Records (not Touch & Go as Amazon had it!) released of 1995 features all of it, as well as the preceding “Walkin’ with Jesus” single and the following release “Take Me to the Other Side”. Since I couldn’t find a Transparent Radiation cover, I have added the cover to that U.S. singles compilation. Most of these tracks recur on the Translucent Flashbacks compilation of their Glass singles, with the exception of “Things’ll Never Be the Same” . The cover of “Starship” has featured on several live releases, most notably on the Performance release, or its alternate version, Live in Europe 1989. 1987’s The Perfect Prescription contains “Transparent Radiation (Flashback)”, “Things’ll Never Be the Same”, and a shorter version of “Ecstasy Symphony” which segues into “Transparent Radiation.”

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