Piers Barber listens to space-rock messiahs Spiritualized tighten up after a lengthy recovery from illness.
(Double Six Records)
Drugs and Spiritualized have always gone hand in hand, although main man Jason Pierce’s exposure to restrictive experimental medicines to treat his recent liver disease and double bout of pneumonia means that Sweet Heart Sweet Light was composed under the influence of a wholly different set of narcotics to which he has traditionally been associated. His band’s latest effort is Pierce’s attempt to make sense of life following his emergence from an exhausting, and apparently enlightening, recovery process.
Sonically, the record rarely strays from the conventional Spiritualized cocktail: classic blues, Krautrock rhythms, ecstatic gospel with conventional rock and roll arrangements and richly layered soundscapes. As demonstrated on strong lead single ‘Hey Jane’, Sweet Heart Sweet Light features many lengthy songs that are gradually built up by melodic guitar riffs and attractive piano melodies broken down and then tentatively reconstructed into euphoric, orchestra-led climaxes. Pierce’s meticulous perfectionism at the mixing desk means the record retains melody, avoiding disintegration into a confusing cacophony of noise.
The album is also one of the band’s more accessible efforts to date, with much of the epic layers of fuzz and guitar distortion common throughout its earlier work neglected in favour of more accessible melodies and prominent vocals. Unfortunately, here Pierce’s limited capabilities as a singer are further undermined by lyrics that are often repetitive, stereotypical and unintentionally amusing, loaded with predictable references to Jesus, Mary, getting to heaven and “holding on.” “Don’t play with fire and you’ll never get burned,” for example, sounds like another tired line uttered innumerable times across the band’s seven albums.
Though he remains overwhelmingly concerned with the same melodramatic issues, the album features several moments of clarity and optimism. High-point ‘I Am What I Am’ is a reassuring proclamation of self-peace, while the soaring chant of ‘So Long You Pretty Thing’, backed by triumphant strings and a powerful choir conclusion, ends the record on an enduring note. It is with this new backbone of positivity that Pierce narrowly avoids colourless redundancy.
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