Sometimes describing a record as ‘weird’ isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just means it doesn’t fit the mold of what one might expect from a certain music style or genre. That seems to hit the nail on the head when I think about the debut album from the Brit-pop band Space. “Spiders” was released in 1996 (and early 1997 for us stateside) during a time when the music industry wasn’t really sure what it’s own identity was. Hip-hop was gaining such popularity, it was becoming the dominate genre in which all pop songs were based upon, and rock music was becoming more and more digital. There was the short-lived ‘British Invasion’ with bands like Oasis, Blur, Radiohead, and Kula Shaker become staples on mainstream rock radio, but what happens when you combine ALL of those elements? You get “Spiders”
Upon first listen, you will notice that Space uses all the usual ingredients found on most late 90s synth pop records like digital drums, synth-strings, lightly distorted guitars and slick production but there is something off about this record that really doesn’t set it’self apart from the rest but puts it in some sort of David Lynch-meets-Loony Tunes alternate reality where things might look normal but just a slight off enough to know that you are in some sort of dream world. The lead track “Neighborhood” starts off simple enough with a James Bond-esqe riff backed with a synthetic string arrangement but then when the vocals start, sounding like Ren Hoek meets George Harrison, you know you are in for something completely off the wall.
The most popular single from album, and band would probably be “Female Of The Species”. Like most of the album, it straddles the fine line between being genius and utterly annoying. In early 1997 there was nothing like it on pop radio, with it’s over the top, cheeky lyrics about falling in love with a female super villain, teamed with it’s smooth 1960s jazz with generic late 1990s production. After all these years, I still can’t tell if they were serious or trying to make the weirdest pop music ever recorded.
Although it was common for alternative bands to dabble with electronica music throughout the mid late 90s, “Spiders” never really owns any genre enough to stand true with a particular genre. There’s enough witty, dark lyrics to fit in with the likes of Pulp or Radiohead, but far too digital to keep it from being played on the same playlist. Yet, there are far too many crunchy guitars and medium tempos to be a legitimate electronica record. This mish-mash of genres and subgenres could very well be the reason why it was hard to market over here in the United States resulting in Space only having one, buzz bin hit. None of the other singles from this album found it’s way in any rotation on Mtv and after about three or four months, mainstream alternative rock radio stations dropped “Female Of The Species” from rotation. The song did find it’s way on the Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me soundtrack album a year later. The following year, the band did the theme song to the big budget Hollywood movie version of “Lost In Space” (despite being an box office bomb, it had a great 90s electronica soundtrack album) but after that, the band fell into obscurity.
I know they put out more records and as far as I know, are still a functioning band in the UK, but listening to “Spiders” makes me wish they could have gotten just a bit more success here in the states. With the right production while staying true to who they were as musicians, Space could have been this generation’s David Bowie, or maybe even beyond? It’s a sad story that happened more often than not in the late 90s: bands with promise but difficulty being marketed to a very cut and dry audience.
Electronica music in the mainstream died a few years later when music genres became even more divided and bands like Space had no place to call home. Songs like “Female Of The Species” is quirky enough to live on in some “Best Of The 90s” lists in digital magazines, but it doesn’t really give Space enough due credit for being such a charismatic, unique band where they could get a resurgence in popularity or maybe even a second chance at releasing music stateside. All in all, “Spiders” may not have been the greatest album to come out of the late 90s, or even in the brit-pop sub-genre, but it was strange enough to leave a lasting effect on me to give it a spin every few years and wonder what would have happened to them if they had a better fighting chance over here. I like Space, and if any of the guys in that band are reading this, I would like to say thanks for putting out an irreverent record that still holds up today despite not getting the commercial success it deserved over here in the states. You were unique and didn’t bother to cash in on the fads going on at the time, the music industry needs more albums like this and more bands like this. Thank you.