Sunday, 29 April 2012

REVIEW: Spiritualized - Sweet Heart Sweet Light

Drugs, prescribed or otherwise have always been a reoccuring theme when it comes to the music of Spiritualized, from the song 'Medication' to the tablet-like packaging for their 1997 classic 'Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space'. Following a lengthy hospitalisation with near fatal pneumonia in 2005, Jason Pierce revealed that due to a liver disease, he had to take life saving drugs during the writing and recording of his latest record. The lyrical themes are familiar: Jesus, rock and roll, drugs, heartbreak and wasted years. This time Jason Pierce is exorcising demons and finding ways of fighting through sadness and finding new hope. 

It's quite fair to say that if you've heard Spiritualized before and didn't enjoy it, then 'Sweet' is probably not going to change your mind. It is an album for fans of Pierce's previous work, but parts of it are more than capable of appealing to those who haven't heard Spiritualized before. The opening minute-long orchestral introduction provides a sweet and elegant greeting before bursting into life with 'Hey Jane' which is hugely enjoyable. It opens like the Beach Boys covered by the Velvet Underground before breaking down into chaos and building itself back up with a motorik rhythm and spaced-out guitars, from which a joyous gospel coda emerges. 'Little Girl' is one of Pierce's finest pieces of work to date, sad yet uplifting and blessed with the most stunning soul strings. 

Although the grinding 'Get What You Deserve' runs for longer than necessary, it adds more than enough to the two chord melody for it to hit the mark, complete with familiar distorted Hammond organ, dissonant guitars and eastern flavoured strings reminiscent of Echo And The Bunnymen's 'Back Of Love'. Although 'Too Late' begins like a Spiritualized cliche thanks to some rather typical lyrics, it soon rises into an emotionally powerful chorus and a melodic beauty that pushes it to the status of album highlight. But another less successful two-chord dirge 'Heading For The Top' aims for the heavier, hypnotic chaos of '...Floating In Space' but doesn't really do enough to adequately recreate such brilliance, and goes pretty much nowhere in the process despite building into a loud, towering arrangement. 

Following the weary country hymn 'Freedom', the brooding 'I Am What I Am' has a 'Cop Shoot Cop'-like pulse running through it, locking into a groove with fierce guitars, handclaps and gospel vocals adding more mean soul. Feedback and squealing free jazz horns ente the chaos as the track climaxes with blistering white noise. 'Mary' begins broken and beaten but soon grows into something truly mammoth, before the hymnal 'Life Is A Problem' makes various pleas for religious guidance via another unforgettable melody. The album concludes with the slow burning beauty of 'So Long You Pretty Things', with Pierce again turning to Jesus for help, feeling like a man with "no reason to be living anymore", before pulling through and making it out the other side as a joyous chorus arises and ends the album on an ecstatically positive note. 

This record doesn't exactly bring many new ideas to the table, but in most cases Pierce doesn't need to. This is more a case of expanding on old ideas and attempting to perfect his musical trademarks further. More often than not he succeeds, making 'Sweet Heart Sweet Light' the strongest Spiritualized album since 2001's superb 'Let It Come Down'. 8

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