THE album cover shows a solitary figure in a space suit, alone with his thoughts and a million miles from home.
Laid over the top, a series of Morse Code dots and dashes represent the words “and nothing hurt”.
Back down on earth, quiet, thoughtful Jason “Spaceman” Pierce is sitting in a discreet corner of a bar in London’s hip Shoreditch.
It’s mid-afternoon when I get to meet the Spiritualized mastermind because, I gather, he’s never been an early riser.
The 52-year-old settles his slender frame on to a bench and opts for a humble glass of water before sharing insights into the band’s first album in six years.
What immediately strikes you is how such emotional, overwhelming swells of sound begin life in self-effacing Pierce’s head.
And Nothing Hurt is the product of a painstaking, at times difficult, process, he reports.
But it has emerged into the sunlight, or should I say starlight, as a vibrant, varied and captivating addition to the Spiritualized canon.
It has all the essential ingredients: Hypnotic, otherworldly rock that draws on the pillars of popular music . . . blues, folk and, probably most importantly, gospel.
Add in deeply heartfelt lyrics and you have nine songs that are both uplifting and wistful in equal doses.
“The album was just born out of my stubborn nature,” says Pierce.
“I’d talked about it being a last (Spiritualized) album and I wanted to do something big and beautiful.
“When I found myself finally trying to put this thing down, I didn’t really have the money to do it but I wouldn’t let go of the idea.
“I didn’t want to make something smaller.”
Pierce formed the “space rock” outfit in 1990 from the ashes of Spacemen 3, and has delivered records of unerring quality ever since.
Writer, singer, instrumentalist, he’s been its only constant.
The sublime 1997 opus Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space is still regarded as his crowning achievement.
Before the arrival of And Nothing Hurt, his first for British indie label Bella Union, two albums had reflected on Pierce’s battles with life-threatening illnesses.
Songs In A+E (2008) came after a visit to intensive care with a combination of severe eye socket infection and pneumonia, and Sweet Heart Sweet Light (2012) touched on the effects of liver disease medication.
This time, Pierce is charting a course through middle age, dealing with getting older, but maintaining his faith in the power of love.
It is, he says, the work of an obsessive.
“I have this tunnel vision which seems foolish because nine pieces of music shouldn’t require that amount of obsession.
“The process feels harder as I get older. When I was younger listening to music I really loved, I’d feel incredibly inspired.
“Now I feel like a lot of it has already been done so beautifully, so eloquently, that I find it hard to find a space for my music.”
Pierce, in his own quiet way, has a rare and uncompromising passion for his craft which means he refuses to go through the motions.
“I feel there’s a lot more pressure now to put out a record as a means to go on the road and make money.
“But I feel a great responsibility that it shouldn’t be just product.”
His latest much-more-than-product in-cludes the lilting, orchestrated A Perfect Miracle, a thrilling guitar wig-out ending to I’m Your Man, the loping gait of Here It Comes (The Road) Let’s Go and a blast of white-knuckle rock, called On The Sunshine.
Unlike previous efforts, And Nothing Hurt took shape on a laptop that Pierce bought to acquaint himself with the digital 21st century way people make music.
He had to push himself into learning the new ways and says: “There’s a tested way to record this stuff and it felt as if I was trying to reinvent something.
“It felt like a kind of madness.”
Pierce kicked off the recording process “playing all the smaller stuff and guitars.
“I did an awful lot of working things out at home and assembling the bits”.
Then, in various studios, other musicians came into play, and musical spontaneous combustion occurred.
“There was a lot of trial and error . . . more error than trial . . . just to see what was working,” he says.
He also spent “an awful lot of time trying to lose that high, transient, aggressive sound that comes with digital.
Jim Dickinson, the (late) Memphis producer, told me years ago that rock and roll is brown and fuzzy.
“I loved that and knew exactly what he meant.”
Pierce’s inspirations are, on the face of it, surprising but actually make perfect sense . . . soul legends Ray Charles and Sam Cooke, classical composer Sibelius and film score maestro Hans Zimmer.
Then there’s 82-year-old country icon Kris Kristofferson, writer of Me And Bobby McGee and Help Me Make It Through The Night, who he saw perform recently at an open-air concert on Hampstead Heath.
“It was an absolutely beautiful show.
“What was truly amazing was him singing a song as the whole audience sang it,” he says.
“Every word was sung back to him and he was in tears.
“It made me realise in a blinding flash that he doesn’t own the songs.
“He certainly wrote them and is singing them but they belonged to this audience.”
As his new baby, And Nothing Hurt, comes blinking and screaming into the world, Pierce combines trepidation at how it’s received with the joy of passing his work on.
“The real beauty of music is that it becomes part of people’s personality, whether they know it or not.
“It can change the way you talk, the way you relate to others, the way you fall in love.
“It’s not my line but I like the idea of taking something personal and making it universal.”
He also feels a tremendous sense of relief.
“The whole process was kicking at my self-confidence and it became a lonelier path as it went on.
“It’s quite hard talking about it but I feel so relieved that I’m not doing it now, that I’m not sitting in a room moving faders around.”
The next step for J. Spaceman and Spiritualized is performing the new songs live, making them blossom.
MOST READ IN TV AND SHOWBIZ
When I ask about the upcoming shows, including London’s Eventim Apollo next Friday, he breaks into a big happy smile.
“That’s probably my first genuine smile of the afternoon,” he decides.
“It’s really beautiful that the shows seem to have this power and glory.”