With roots in the long-established traditions of psychedelia, soul, blues, and even gospel, and yet still light years ahead of their peers, Spiritualized were without a doubt one of the most innovative and accomplished British rock acts of the ‘90s.
The title of Spiritualized’s last studio album, 1997’s Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, wasn’t just a clever, trippy reference to the group’s singular brand of music-to-take-drugs-to, it also underscored the fact the band had risen much more than the proverbial head-and-shoulders above the competition. Whether they were crafting droning minimalist textures or massive, lush orchestrations, Spiritualized were indeed in another dimension altogether.
And when 1998’s phenomenal Royal Albert Hall album appeared, documenting the breathtaking live performance of a group at the height of its powers, the only question on fans’ minds was, “where can frontman Jason Pierce possibly take Spiritualized next?”
The answer came in early 1999 when Pierce sacked the key members of the band: guitarist Mike Mooney, drummer Damon Reece, and bassist Sean Cook. Ironically, the three had discussed forming their own group as far back as 1997 and—now basing themselves in Bristol—they set about recording as Lupine Howl, taking advantage of the creative freedom and flexibility they felt they had lacked in the Spiritualized set-up.
All of the tracks on 125 came out in Britain in 2000 and the band’s debut album, The Carnivorous Lunar Activities of Lupine Howl, appeared in the UK in April 2001. This American release of the 125 EP gathers the group’s first three UK singles—“Vaporizer”, “Bronzage”, and “125”—with their respective b-sides.
Despite Sean Cook’s comments about now being at liberty to explore new musical territory beyond the confines of Pierce’s strict aesthetic, the sound of Lupine Howl documented by this material has a certain amount in common with that of Spiritualized.
“Bronzage”, for instance, blends a moody, soulful pulse with early-‘70s Pink Floyd atmospherics, while the title track’s searing guitar twang and relentless locomotive drive capture the blistering charge of Spiritualized at their most explosive. The mesmerizing (and appropriately titled) “Tired” recalls another side of that band’s sound. With its slow-motion ebb-and-flow of melancholy guitars, hints of percussion, and brooding ambience, the number evokes Spiritualized’s more languorous, introspective moments.
But alongside these familiar sounds there’s definitely a newfound range on display here. While Spiritualized of course incorporated some soul flavour, that element is given more breadth and rendered in a looser fashion with absolutely glorious results on “Vaporizer”. This is a sublime psychedelic soul-funk extravaganza, a hybrid of Primal Scream, Parliament, and the Spencer Davis Group with fruity keyboards, spacey noises, wailing backing vocals, and a relentless, throbbing beat. The hypnotic “Swell”, on the other hand, puts the introspective psychedelia of “Tired” into a shimmering digital context that suggests the trip-hop grooves of Portishead, albeit with a very minimal emphasis on the “hop” component.
125 is still the sound of a band in development, to be sure. Even so, it’s an impressive start that shows the members of Lupine Howl inevitably drawing on their own musical history and yet exploring new sonic avenues.
(Note for non-British trainspotters, both literal and figurative: The “125” of the title refers to the Inter-City High Speed train, or HST—featured on the disc’s cover—that went into service on the London to Bristol route in 1976. Capable of speeds in excess of 125 mph, the HST broke the British speed record that had been held since 1938 by the legendary Mallard, the steam locomotive featured on the cover of Blur’s Modern Life Is Rubbish.)