Arachnophobes of the Space ‘Spiders’ era, get ready to be unable to look at your artwork again for the Liverpool-band’s debut album, as Demon Music have relaunched it on vinyl and we’ve been suiting up to drift off into the unique world of the band, Space.
Looking back, it’s safe to say the band captured a lot of the spirit of 1996, especially as the recorded the album across 1995-96, on the now defunct Gut Records label. With the original line-up of Tommy Scott (Bass guitar, Vocals) Jamie Murphy (Guitar, Vocals) Franny Griffiths (Keyboards, Synthesizers), and the late Andy Parle (Drums), some mid-tracks may not have made the time grade, but there definitely remains a host of songs that seared themselves inside my brain 25 years ago, and lyrically remain in the mind.
Opening with the timeless Neighbourhood, which celebrates everything good about the strangeness of living somewhere with a multitude of quirky characters – and could have easily inspired The League of Gentlemen – it’s a striking intro to the band who effortlessly fuse an electronic sound within the indie guitar world. It’s bassy, it’s catchy, there’s smart sampling (that bands like The Avalanches made an entire career out of) – don’t underestimate the power of Space.
In an odd way, Neighbourhood revels in its inventions and could be a reflection the Britpop scene of the era, when the Strange Ones amongst us finally got our time in the limelight, heck, both Space and Mansun had a thing for suspicious vicars. Continuing the homicide theme, Mr Psycho isn’t subtle in its story and while it’s utterly off its head, it works as a follow up and connection to what comes next.
Track three is Female of the Species, one of their key efforts for me that truly captures their musical spirit. Featuring a mass of scratching samples, with a hip-hop vibe beneath the waves, here they depict both the title of the album and a true reality of the time. While it might have been a bit of a boys club in the themes of the nineties, it’s clear times were-a-changing – for the better – and tracks like Female of the Species stood up and out above. It never fails to offer its songwriting showmanship.
Money is another that swoops between genres, with sharp lyrics and more than a story of revenge and honesty, in the best contemplative way. Then we hit Me and You Vs the World – reportedly inspired by Natural Born Killers (watch if you never have, it’s class) – it keeps us within the framework of shady characters and catchy pop-motifs. It’s interesting, Space have an uncanny knack for delving into the darkness with a cheery persona, and it’ll always catch you out if you actually listen in – and I’ve always loved that sensibility in a band – and don’t forget the dance track always lingering underneath.
Their 90s-inspired Reservoir Dogs/Pulp Fiction life contains into the crazy Lovechild of the Queen, which I guess is increasingly possible from the Royals than we’d contemplated 25 years ago. No-one Understands isn’t one I got on with originally and I still find it a little too like a couple of tracks before, Voodoo Roller echoes the likes of Blur’s Dan Abnormal – and both those tracks seem to split people, but I like them for their strangeness and the connection to video games, and society twisting people.
After that little interlude, we really pick up the spirit of the earlier album with Drop Dead – sure it’s an upbeat dance-floor must-have, it’s also a wonderfully dark tribute to an obsessive fan and not too far off the world of Catatonia, which would explain the inspired team-up of these two bands with The Ballad of Tom Jones not long afterwards. Dark Clouds offers a real shift in the atmosphere, and a definite lean to what will come next from the band, but a welcome one at that. I remember clearly loving the difference, a little hit of Dodgy no doubt but also a little bit of a hope amongst the death – even if pop – that surrounds Spiders. It’s a breather, despite its imposing song title.
The album concludes with the quartet of Major Pager, an Oasis-y song dedicated to John Major which, at the time, wasn’t someone who inspired anything exciting, the Drop Dead-like Kill Me and more than a little I Wanna Be Your Dog lingering beneath, the Black Grape/Hooked on a Feeling track Charlie M (a song for the over-covered and infamous Manson) and somewhat hidden track Growler taking us deep into the underground clubs of the Trainspotting and Shallow Grave era but, oddly, it works as it closes this unusual set of songs. I sometimes think of Space as the counterbalance to Mansun: dark in their intentions on opposite sides of that spectrum, and that’s a good thing.
In truth, I’d forgotten what killer levels and layers of production went into Spiders, I’ve always returned to the singles from Space, but it’s been a while since I explored the full world, despite still having the CDs, and it’s worth the revisit with a beer and an evening of indie. The distinct pop-dance-indie style is what makes Space very much an album band, and while they could be dismissed as a novelty pop act, they’re better than that lazy tag with both Spiders and second album Tin Planet (reviewed here) proving their worth, as they clearly took their moment and created some absolute bangers along the way.