Six years in the making, And Nothing Hurt, the eighth album by Spiritualized, is instantly recognizable for its trademark meld of garage rock, pillowy psychedelia, gospel, R&B, and blues via guitars, strings, horns, keyboards, and a stellar backing chorus in intimate, vulnerable, confessional songs. Since the early '90s (earlier if you count Spacemen 3), Jason Pierce has cultivated a lush production palette and songwriting style that often involves dozens of musicians in big-budget recording studios. This date follows that M.O. with a caveat: It was largely recorded on a laptop alone in his bedroom. Pierce began these sessions as a series of demos with Youth. Unhappy with the result, he scrapped almost everything to begin again, but faced a logistics problem: Most of his money had been spent. Necessity being the mother of invention, he bought a laptop and undertook the painstaking process of learning to use Pro Tools. His budget was so miniscule, the record's requisite string orchestra was assembled from sampled bits off classical recordings. After finishing basic tracks, he hired players for instruments he couldn’t play, including timpani, horns, and upright bass, as well as the vocal chorus. He cut their parts in professional studios. Despite this, And Nothing Hurt (titled after the epitaph of Billy Pilgrim, the hero of Kurt Vonnegut's novel Slaughterhouse Five), fits Spiritualized's aesthetic perfectly.
As a songwriter and arranger, all of Pierce's strengths are readily apparent. The strummed ukulele intro to opener "A Perfect Miracle" blossoms into a Baroque psychedelic waltz that Ray Davies might have constructed during the Kinks' Village Green Preservation Society period. "I'm Your Man" is drenched in the warmth of Stax-style horns in kaleidoscopic R&B. The sunshine-drenched "Here It Comes (The Road) Let's Go" weaves a strolling NOLA-style horn chart through a gospelized vocal chorus, pulsing analog synths, and shambolic guitars. "Damaged" is a country waltz à la Mickey Newbury with slide guitars in place of pedal steel and a lonesome, lyric that sounds simultaneously exhausted and needy. "The Morning After" continues the story of Jane from "Hey Jane," and gives way to a squalling boogie garage rock orgy built on a two-chord vamp and peppered with bleating saxophones, brass, and backing vocals. "The Morning After" nods toward the Loaded-era Velvet Underground with its textured yet frenetic attack, underscored by a howling harmonica and framed by a female chorus that transforms the tune into mutant gospel. Two other tracks here, "The Prize" and the closer "Sail on Through," are hazy, languid assemblages of orchestral psych pop and narcotic gospel. During the recording process, Pierce felt he was creating the final Spiritualized effort; pleased with results, that seems no longer to be the case. In full, And Nothing Hurt stands alongside the very best outings on the Spiritualized shelf. Its finest moments are consequently its most tender, revealing how much Pierce has grown as a writer. If he continues to record, this will be the album that opens a vibrant new chapter in the saga of Spiritualized.