1997 was a great year for spacey, druggy art-prog Radiohead's instant classic OK Computer dropped from the sky (or from Thom Yorke's skull), indoctrinating rock fans to a particular stew of Pink Floyd and Kraftwerk, all the while fooling them into thinking it was pop music. That same year, another group of even stranger Brits put out an odder collection of freak-outs. The band was called Spiritualized, and Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space was their heaviest trip.
Spiritualized made no bones about the fact that Ladies and Gentlemen was a drug record — the front cover resembled a medicine label and the original artwork talked about the songs in terms of dosage. But Ladies and Gentlemen… isn't just a gooey jam for far-out spaceheads — rather, it's a deep, affecting, emotional workout. Space is (apparently) a place where the lounge lizardry of "Cop Shoot Cop" (with its jazz-bo piano groove, bluesy guitars and frontman Jason Pierce's distracted moaning) can brush up against the countryside psychedelia of "I Think I'm in Love" (which marries church organs with a digital haze and contains the classic couplet "I think I'm in love/I'm probably just hungry"). You could probably listen to "Broken Heart" and fool yourself into thinking you were weightless, which is one of the few times that an album title lives up to its billing.
Ladies and Gentlemen… feels timeless not because it sounds universal but because it seems like it couldn't have come out in the late '90s. There's no pre-millennium tension, no paranoia about technology and very few nods towards electronica (the machines are present, but they're happy to just lay around and hum). The most thrilling moments come when Pierce snaps out of his haze for a rave-up, like the horn- and choir-assisted "Come Together" and the feedback-popping "Electricity."
Though Spiritualized continue to release music, they have yet to top the majesty, grace and power of Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space (though 2001's Let It Come Down is formidable). A few years following the release of the album, Sigur Rós arguably took the template and perfected it, making the climaxes louder and the tension more taut. But Ladies and Gentlemen… remains a stunning accomplishment, at once sprawling and sharp, inviting and alienating. Drugs are dangerous, kids, but every once in a while they really work.