|Studio album by Space|
|Released||16 September 1996|
|Studio||Parr Street Studios, Liverpool|
|Singles from Spiders|
Spiders is the debut album by English band Space, released on 16 September 1996. After signing to independent label Gut Records, the band recorded Spiders between 1995 and 1996 in Liverpool. The album combines a great wealth of styles and genres, including rock, hip hop, techno, funk and rave. This was as a result of the different musical tastes of the band members. Several songs contain several different styles within themselves. Many of the lyrics of the album, mostly written by vocalist Tommy Scott and inspired by films, are darkly humorous and largely story-driven, featuring numerous sadistic characters.
Upon release, the album peaked at #5 on the UK Albums Chart in September 1996, and was certified platinum by the British Phonographic Industry in December 1996. "Spiders" peaked at #133 in Australia, #45 in New Zealand in May 1997, and #35 in Finland. "Money", "Kill Me", "Neighbourhood", "Female of the Species", "Me and You Versus the World" and "Dark Clouds" (the first two combined together as a double A-side) were released as singles, though the former was re-recorded for the album. It sold an estimated 800,000 copies between 1996 and 1998. The album received critical acclaim upon release, with critics praising its unique sound and lyrics, and has featured in polls of the best albums of all time.
Background and recording
Space were formed in Liverpool in 1993 by vocalist and bass guitarist Tommy Scott, guitarist and co-vocalist Jamie Murphy and drummer Andy Parle and were highly influenced by The Who. Although most of the band were in their mid-20s, Murphy was only 17. The band recruited Scott's old friend and former bandmaster in Hello Sunset, Franny Griffiths, shortly afterwards performing keyboards and electronics, establishing the band's trademark, multi-genre style. The band's first single, "If It's Real" (1993), was released on Hug Records, belonging to the band's long-time supporter Mark Cowley, with artwork designed by Carl Hunter of The Farm. Successful indie label Gut Records payed attention to the band as they had started initiated a sub-label that was also named Hug Records, asking Cowley for permission to release music with the same company name.
Gut Records, who were known for signing off-kilter bands, signed Space in 1995 and released the minor double A-side single "Money / Kill Me" in November, but "it left the shops as quickly as it had entered." The recording of the single marked the start of the recording sessions for Spiders, and the two songs would reappear on the album; however, "Money" was re-recorded. Stephen Lironi produced the album, with the exception of "Kill Me" which was produced by Ian Richardson and Nick Coler, a song which was also mixed and engineered by Alan Douglas The other songs on the album were mixed by Jeremy Wheatley, who also engineered all the tracks except "Neighbourhood", which was engineered by Andy Kowalski. Gerald Lynch performs as a guest percussionist on five of the album's songs, with Tony Pierce providing trumpet on "Dark Clouds" and "Charlie M".
The band recorded the entirety of the album in Parr Street Studios, Liverpool, between 1995 and 1996. It was subsequently mixed in three London studios; Air Lyndhurst, Olympic Studios and Mayfair Studios. "Female of the Species" was initially performed using a straight beat, until Griffiths came up with the idea to "stick scratching samples and a hip-hop swing underneath the track." As such, in the studio's basement, Parle, using only one microphone ("the minimum of studio technology"), "merely bunged a load of delay on the resulting loop." David "Yorkie" Palmer sang backing vocals on "Neighbourhood", although he had yet to official join the band, though he assisted the band in recording many of the album's B-sides.
Spiders was described as critics as disregarding genre, and displays influence from a large array of genres and styles, such as hip hop, "brooding" Eastern European folk music, funk, techno, indie dance, rave and Hawaiian xylophone music. Parts of the album are said to echo British bands such as Squeeze, the Kinks, Madness and Buzzcocks as well as crooner Frank Sinatra and The Walker Brothers. According to Westnet, "many of the tracks offer two or three completely distinct styles within four minutes of pop bliss." They described the album as "why full albums were invented, instead of singles" and said "the only common thread" between the tracks is their alternative pop sensibility. The magazine reckoned the closest comparison for Spiders would be the "psychedelic dance beats of Shaun Ryder's groups, Happy Mondays and Black Grape." The album has been described by critics as "strange," "unique," "wonderfully original," "quirky," "smart," and "often highly clever."
The album's combining of rock and electronic elements has been described as "a marriage in perfect harmony" where "the guitars don't lead and the beats don't overpower." The Daily Trojan described the balance as follows: "The album smoothly flows from song to song with underlying guitars that accent the friendly techno beats provided by keyboard player Franny Griffiths. The effect is one that gives each song a distinct atmosphere while seldom giving away too much control to either techno or rock. Electronic blips are not overused and show up only to give songs more character." There are also found sound elements to the album; Parle explained: "When we were in Hong Kong, we heard these children saying prayers, it was like a mad wailing sound. Straight away we got out a dictaphone and started taping it. If something's going to make a track sound better we'll use it. As long as it's not contrived."
Although the band and the album have been considered Britpop, the band and several music critics have disavowed the connection to the genre; Westnet said the band "bears relation to their Britpop neighbors only in their decidedly British accents and their country of origin." Similarly, Dotmusic said the band has "never fitted into any of the post-Britpop guitar band moulds." Although the NME noted the band were seen as "weirdly comic relief from Britpop and Noelrock," they also said they were "as much, if not more, in keeping with a classic British pop lineage as any of those bands." One reviewer noted how the band were out "to destroy retro-gazing Britpop from within."
The lyrics of the album are mostly written and sung by Scott, with five other songs written and sung by Murphy; the unusual lyrics have been described as "blood-stained" and "writing madness." Scott said "I get my ideas from Quentin Tarantino movies and Looney Tunes cartoons. We'll never write ordinary love songs. We're more likely to write 'I met a girl and she's in love with me so she poisoned my entire family'." Much of Scott's childhood was spent watching violent American movies on television, which were an influence on the lyrics, but "instead of just relying on the sadistic imagery," the band "go for the full subversive effect by placing those images within the context of upbeat, chipper melodies." "I see the songs I write as soundtracks for particular stories in my head," Scott said, "Musically I like old stuff like Roy Orbison, and some new stuff like Tricky, but movies are the big thing for me. Ive never really had heroes in music".
Scott commented that "'tis one of life's sweetest pleasures to see Space fans happily bop along whilst singing lines like 'Kill me, kill me/Oh won't you kill me,'" adding that "if the music sounded like some of the lyrics, I'd probably kill me-self. I like seeing your average grandmother or mum on the street singing along to 'Mister Psycho' but not realizing she's singing a song about a psychopath." Fearing some might misinterpret the lyrical intention, Scott affirmed "it's not done in a macho way. We're not trying to be macho, saying that we're tough. We're not like that. I grew up on films, watching films, so that's all that's in me mind. All I'm doing is telling little stories." Griffiths explained, "some of it's like cartoon humour, where you get hit by that big mallet but still get up and walk away."
Opening song "Neighbourhood" is an "exotically-flavoured show tune" which features elements of "spy theme music" and a "mish-mash of styles." The song's lyrics concern of characters in the "neighbourhood" such as a "local tranvestite", a serial killer vicar, "the big butch queen" and "the folks who make a living off of crime - but are never there because they're all doing time." "Mister Psycho" features "bizarre faux-Spanish accents", whilst "Female of the Species" is an "ode to a female lover who practices witchcraft." Andy Parle said "I think we would all agree that females have more intelligence than males. And that's what makes them more dangerous." The "goofy number" has been described as "Burt Bacharach meets alternative lounge music" which is "sprinkled with some xylophones" and contains a background of "Mexican cha-chas." "Money" is an oom-pah-inspired track with a vocal delivery derived from Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's The Threepenny Opera.
"Me & You Vs the World", with lyrics inspired by 1994 film Natural Born Killers, is said to emulate the "early British pop of the 60's in that same vein as the Kinks and Herman's Hermits." Reviewer Todd Martens, who called it the "most pop-infected tune on the album," described the song as a "sweepingly cinematic coming-of-age tale about two star-crossed lovers turning to crime easily breaks free of conventional pop form without disrupting the song in the slightest. Scott lurches into a spoken-word verse when the narrator gets shot, and the music all but stops except for a hazy and slow pulsating techno throb. The guitars suddenly rise at just the right moment and turn the tune back into the catchy-as-heck pop melody that finishes with a couple happy to go to hell together." "Love Child (of the Queen)", a tongue-in-cheek guitar pop song, is the first of three consecutive tracks written and sung by Jamie Murphy. "No-One Understands Me" is a "satirical lament" which features "overly mixed guitars" which make the song "maddeningly and engrossingly repetitive." "Drop Dead" is a funk rock song, whilst "Dark Clouds" is an ironic "holiday siesta" featuring a trumpet solo."
"Major Pager" concerns then-Prime Minister John Major "selling E's to the Russians", a lyric that made musical journalist Colin Larkin surprised that the band didn't end up being litigated." "Charlie M." is a "Charles Mason fantasy" which features "Mickey Mouse screwing Minnie." The closing track, "Growler" is a techno instrumental composed and performed by Griffiths alone that uses a prominent voice sample of Cheech and Chong from the film Up in Smoke; writing of the track, Westnet said "it doesn't hit 160 beats a minute, but it could easily fit in at a rave. The album's title track is a hidden track at the end of American editions of the album. The song concerns Scott's girlfriend's arachnophobia; Scott explained "that song is about me girlfriend. Basically, I know that she's terrified of spiders but if anyone, like say you come up and tried to hit me, she'd kill ya. She's not frightened of anything in the world except spiders." Journalist Stuart Bernan explained "that's Tommy for ya, expressing his romantic side by playing on his girlfriend's worst fear." Imprint magazine said the song offers "some sound relationship advice which might not sit too well with any of Space's male fans who value their testicles."
Spiders was released by Gut Records in the United Kingdom on 16 September 1996. In the United States, it was released by Gut and Universal Records on 14 January 1997. Scott chose to adorn the album artwork with numerous tarantulas, which also gives the album its title; he explained "some people can't even put the CD on the [player]. They have to get their friends to put on the CD for them. The reason we put it on the LP cover is simply just to test our fans, because we know there's loads of people who are terrified by spiders, and if they really love us that much, they'll still go out and buy it."
In the words of Dotmusic, "Space's idiosyncratic pop sensibility coupled with Gut's marketing approach has proved to be a winning combination." The label was used to "working with acts that don't necessarily seek to conform", and, having started life as a plugging company, "its reputation in this field has helped to harness Radio One support for the singles and secure TV appearances on shows such as Chris Evans' TFI Friday". Due to the small size of Gut, the entire label's staff "[pulled] out all stops" for the album. Guy Holmes, managing director of Gut, was pleased with the album's success; in late 1996 he stated "it's been brilliant, absolutely fantastic. It's all about building a band properly without any hype and letting the records speak for themselves. With 120,000 albums sold, what more can you say?"
In the United States, some pipped Spiders as a potential success in the advance of electronica, and especially rock bands that mixed electronica with rock instrumentation; in February 1997, the Daily Trojan commented that "the electronic onslaught is underway, and if U2's Pop successfully brings techno to mainstream rock audiences, Space deserves more than a cut of the crowd." The band were not expecting any American success, concerned that Spiders "might sound too European" due to "its dance beats, fuzzy guitar, and singer Tommy Scott's jaunty vocals." The album nonetheless found a small audience in the United States because of the band's college radio following, with the band receiving heavy rotation on small American radio stations in early 1997, and "Female of the Species" being popular on MTV and college radio. The first 15,000 American copes came with a bonus disc featuring songs only released in the UK.
A year ahead of the album's release, "Money / Kill Me" was released as a double A-side in November 1995, containing the original version of "Money", but it did not chart and is considered by the band to be a "test" release and forerunner to the album's official lead single, "Neighbourhood", which was initially released on 25 March 1996 and only peaking at number 56 in the UK Singles Chart. Third single "Female of the Species", released 27 May 1996, turned out to be the band's breakthrough single, reaching number 14 in the UK charts and ultimately selling close to a million copies, despite originally being intended as a B-side. It was the band's only entry on any music chart in the United States when it peaked at number 15 on the Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart in early 1997. In Australia, "Female of the Species" entered the ARIA top 100 singles chart on 11 May 1997, peaking at number 80 in June.
Released on 26 August 1996, "Me and You Versus the World" was the band's first Top 10 hit in the UK, reaching number 9. "Neighbourhood" was then re-released on 21 October 1996, this time reaching number 11. In Australia, "Neighbourhood" entered the ARIA top 100 singles chart on 9 February 1997 at number 90. "Neighbourhood" peaked at number 22 in New Zealand in March 1997. "Dark Clouds" was the final single, released on 10 February 1997 and reaching number 14 in the UK charts.
The band insisted on recording original B-sides for the singles, "a practice foreign to many commercially-focused American bands but popular with British groups." In an interview with The Tufts Daily, Parle said: "When we release something, especially off the album, we know people are going to have that track from the album, and just putting that track out with a new mix of it, we think that's a bit of cheating. So what we always do if we're taking a track off the album, we go back in the studio and do two or three B-sides." Numerous unreleased songs, and remixes of songs from the album, were released as the double album Invasion of the Spiders on 3 November 1997.
A commercial success, spurred on by the success of it singles, Spiders reached number 5 on the UK Albums Chart and was certified platinum by the British Phonographic Industry in December 1996 for sales of over 300,000 copies. A strong seller for a year after its release, it spent 54 weeks on the chart. The album also peaked at number 133 in Australia, number 45 in New Zealand in May 1997, and number 35 in Finland. The album was also successful in Asia. The band's best-selling album, Spiders sold an estimated 800,000 copies between 1996 and 1998.
Spiders was also a critical success, with critics praising its unique sound and unusual lyrics. In the United Kingdom, the band received praise from popular music magazines, including Q and Select. The NME rated the album seven out of ten and said "Space are worthy of a superlative that is all too rare in new British pop right now. No, not 'novelty'. Just 'unique'." The reviewer found it unusual for a Northwest band to employ "wit, irony and humour."
The album was also well received by American critics. Todd Martens of the Daily Trojan said that "almost every track on this album contains something worth admiring." Bob Gajarskey of Westnet was very favourable, saying that, "because of its diversity, Spiders may prove to be too smart an album for generic record buyers. But for anyone who appreciates an album that from start to finish never lets up–and never lets the listener down–Spiders is a must-have." "If you're bored with the regular radio-mumbo-jumbo," wrote Karsten W. Gitter of Imprint, "Space offers a true alternative. Upbeat, unique and amusing, Spiders is thoroughly entertaining." Jonathan Dale of the UWO Gazette said that, "regardless of what the interpretation is, Space creates original sounds that, despite the images surrounding it, will always remain witty, whimsical pop that everyone deserves to hear...despite certain phobias."
Later commentary on the album has also been positive. Alex Henderson of Allmusic, in a retrospective review, was largely favourable, calling it "quirky and often highly clever" and "one of the most appealing alternative rock releases of 1996." He praised their "enjoyably twisted sense of humour" and said that, although "the rockers can be overly self-indulgent," Space, "like Frank Zappa and George Clinton, generally use their eccentricity advantageously." The album was highlighted as an "Album Pick" on the website. Writer Colin Larkin rated the album three stars out of five in his 2000 book The Virgin Encyclopedia of Nineties Music.
The album has been features in critics' lists of the best albums of 1996 and in some cases of all time. At the end of 1996, Select ranked Spiders at number 23 in their list of the best albums of the year. The album also ranked 9th in NME's readers poll of the 10 best albums of 1996. The European version of Westnet also ranked their album in their "top 5 of 1996." In 1997, the album ranked 77th in Virgin Megastores' "Chart of the Century" poll of the 100 greatest albums of all time. In 1998, the album ranked 551st in the updated version of the book All Time Top 1000 Albums, a list of the greatest albums of all time that was the result of over 200,000 votes cast by informed music lovers and ranked in order.
"Female of the Species" has also featured in critics' lists. Select named it the 6th best single of 1996. It also ranked at number 40 in NME's list of the top 50 singles of 1996, and The Face ranked it at number 9 in their own list of 1996's 50 greatest singles. Les Inrockuptibles also included in their list of 1996's greatest singles, as did Iguana, who ranked it 39th in their top 50 list. It ranked number 75 in the Triple J poll of the best songs of 1997. In 2013, NME ranked it at number 84 in their list of "The 100 Greatest Britpop Songs." The song became known as the theme music for earlier episodes of Cold Feet, after being used throughout the pilot episode; the instrumental version plays over the opening credits and the full lyrical version is heard during a first-act montage. The track was chosen by producer Christine Langan after she heard it on The Chart Show.
Having never been re-released, in 2014, NME included Spiders in its list of "30 Glorious Britpop Albums That Deserve a Reissue Pronto," with one reviewer commenting: "Just reel off those beauties – ‘Neighbourhood’, ‘Me and You vs the World’, ‘Female of the Species’ – it’s imperative that a new generation of kids hears these songs. A group of rough and ready Scousers with deathless melodies to burn, Space could’ve been the new Beatles if anyone had thought to make that comparison." In 2016, a limited edition picture disc vinyl of the album was made available on Record Store Day, 20 years after its' original release.
Touring and aftermath
Space played several prolific festivals in this era, and numerous shows that were well received by British critics. A concert played by the band in Dublin in November 1996 was attended by Universal Records staff and their guests; it was integral in the label singing the band in the United States. After the minor success of Spiders and especially "Female of the Species" in the United States, Space toured the US in mid-1997. However, the tour was marked with numerous problems. The band were constantly under stress, and such was its extent that Griffiths developed an ulcer, Scott lost his voice and Murphy, "still only 21, simply lost it completely and had a spell in psychiatric care being fed anti-depressants and milk," whilst Parle eventually left the band, being replaced by Leon Caffrey soon afterwards. After his cameo on Spiders, David "Yorkie" Palmer joined the band in late 1997 as a bassist, but the death of his mother, popular Liverpullidan singer Gladys Palmer, came as a devastation to the band.
Murphy's personal problems lead to him missing some of the band's live shows and television appearances. It was widely rumoured that he depressingly watched Space perform "Dark Clouds" on BBC's Top of the Pops on television, one of the performances he missed, although in fact he was preoccupied with other things and "actually forgotten the single was even out." Scott was terrified that his singing voice was permanently lost, as the cause with originally unknown; he underwent cancer treatment to make sure, but it turns out his voice was lost due to stress, and he soon recovered. Murphy also soon recovered and rejoined the band in time for the recording of their second album, Tin Planet.
|1.||"Neighbourhood"||Tommy Scott, Franny Griffiths, Space||3:28|
|2.||"Mister Psycho"||Scott, Space||3:40|
|3.||"Female of the Species"||Scott, Space||3:17|
|4.||"Money"||Scott, Griffiths, Space||4:01|
|5.||"Me & You Vs the World"||Scott, Griffiths, Space||3:35|
|6.||"Lovechild of the Queen"||Jamie Murphy, Space||3:39|
|7.||"No-One Understands"||Murphy, Space||4:08|
|8.||"Voodoo Roller"||Murphy, Space||3:15|
|9.||"Drop Dead"||Scott, Space||4:26|
|10.||"Dark Clouds"||Scott, Griffiths, Space||3:50|
|11.||"Major Pager"||Murphy, Griffiths, Space||3:16|
|13.||"Charlie M"||Scott, Space||3:50|
|14.||"Growler" (instrumental)||Griffiths, Space||4:47|
|US bonus tracks|
|15.||"Spiders" (hidden track)|
- Lead vocals on tracks 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 9, 10, 13 and 15: Tommy Scott
- Lead vocals on tracks 6, 7, 8, 11 and 12: Jamie Murphy
- Track 1 (Neighbourhood) contains a spoken sample from the film Up in Smoke, starring Cheech and Chong. Tommy Chong, as Anthony "Man" Stoner, says, "Who lives here, man?"
- Track 2 (Mr. Psycho) contains a spoken sample from the Stanley Kubrick film The Shining. Jack Nicholson, as Jack Torrance, says, "I'm awfully glad you asked me that" - a remark directed toward Lloyd the bartender.
- Track 6 (Lovechild of the Queen) contains a spoken sample from the Quentin Tarantino film Pulp Fiction. An Ed Sullivan impersonator says, "Ladies and gentlemen, now the moment you've all been waiting for" - a part of his introduction for the dance contest in which Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) participate.
- Track 7 (No-One Understands) contains a sample of the iconic quote "I am not an animal! I am a human being!", spoken by John Hurt as John Merrick in the David Lynch film The Elephant Man.
- Track 12 (Kill Me) contains a spoken sample from the Quentin Tarantino film Reservoir Dogs. Tim Roth as Mr. Orange says "I can't believe she killed me, man!"
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