Spiritualized

Sweet Heart Sweet Light

Fat Possum

Apr 13, 2012 Issue #40 - In the Studio 2012 - Grizzly Bear, Dirty Projectors, and Twin Shadow Bookmark and Share


"Hey Jane" opens Sweet Heart Sweet Light, Spiritualized's seventh full-length album and the first since 2008's Songs in A&E. Nodding slyly to The Velvet Underground's "Sweet Jane," the song finds frontman Jason Pierce wondering, like a mantra, "Hey Jane, when you gonna die?"one of numerous allusions to mortality throughout Sweet Heart Sweet Light. It's a superb song that finds Pierce in miniature mode. Sure, there are John Cale-esque strings and ethereal choral backing vocals, but it feels somehow distilled to its melodic core, and there's no grand, cathartic white noise outburst. It sets the stage for a tastefully mature, eminently self-aware album, certainly one of Spiritualized's best to date.

"We're here today and then we're gone/Before we ride into the sun/Get it on," Pierce laments on "Little Girl," almost certainly a response to his own near-death experience with pneumonia, and yet another health scare prior to Sweet Heart Sweet Light that required chemo.

But Pierce is acutely aware of the redemptive and divine healing potential of rock music. He recaptures some of his Spacemen 3-era danger on the vertiginous buzz-saw number "Get What You Deserve," as he cautions, "I'm gonna shoot you while you're laying still/I used up all my affection."

The downtrodden gospel blues number "I Am What I Am" astounds, with its Dr. John-esque piano fills and urbane Motown backing vocals guiding Pierce's swaggering, rapid-fire delivery as he urges, "I'm the heart that calls you home/I'm the grave that marks your stone."

This may or may not be Spiritualized's greatest achievement since Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, as it's been revealed that Pierce pulled a fast one on his record label and reviewers and plans to continue mixing and tweaking the album as close as he can up to its street date. But for now, it's another resounding triumph for Pierce. On Ladies and Gentlemen he captured the restless imagination of youth. Here he captures the elusive process of growing into middle age gracefully on an album suffused with pathos, grief, and wonderment at still being alive to talk about it. (www.spiritualized.com)

Author rating: 8/10

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Average reader rating: 9/10



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Joseph
April 13th 2012
12:39pm

This is the first proper review I’ve read of the new album, and I can already detect a trend that will unfold over the next couple of months as the bloggers and paper mags push to make their deadlines. To quote the reviewer: ‘This may or may not be Spiritualized’s greatest achievement since Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space…’ Oh, the ambivalence is killing me. Way to cover all your bases there. I think it’s about time we lay to rest all comparisons of every new Spiritualized album to LAGWAFIS.

I have not been just a fan of the band since 1990, but a full-fledged supporter - I must’ve been to at least 15-20 shows since the Pure Phase-era; purchased the obligatory shirt or two; and collecting almost every release, including promos, singles, EPs, albums, and limited edition releases (all on both CD and vinyl versions). Even in these digital days of the mp3, I still plunk down cash to buy any and all releases that get added to the ever-growing Spiritualized catalogue. So, what I’m trying to get at here is that I take each record on its own merits, as if it is its own entity, and next logical direction Jason wants to take the music in.

Remember how shocked Spiritualized-world was when Jason decided to fire the entire LAGWAFIS lineup? I guess he decided to take the music in a different direction and realized he couldn’t do it with that lineup. So thus ended the LGM/PP/LAGWAFIS era of Spiritualized. Since then, there were a couple of missteps, i.e. Let It Come Down, which in itself was a great record, if not a bit overindulgent, but it showed another side of Pierce - his ability to combine classical, blues, gospel and good old rock and roll - like this was the record he’s always wanted to make. And I think we can mostly that Amazing Grace was a complete mess. Pierce, aiming for that completely stripped-down production that left many fans, including myself, putting the album up on the shelf and let it collect dust. And even though the 3-disc reissue of LAGWAFIS was just a stop gap between Amazing Grace and Songs In A&E, they were chock-full of interesting insights into the recording of the album.

Songs in A&E was a brilliant record through and through, considering that Jason was suffering through double pneumonia at the time. It sounded different from anything else he’s ever recorded. Now, that brings us up to the present day. I’ve managed to only listen to a few songs that are currently streaming over at NPR, and I must say, from what I have heard, this record sounds like it will be Spiritualized’s strongest and most focused to date. And if you noticed, a pattern has emerged throughout the years: Jason writes, produces and mixes at his absolute best when he is going through some really rough times. Times that would probably knock any mere mortal on his ass, forcing him to give up. But not Spaceman. He feeds off that negative energy and channels it into his music. And the world is a better place for it.

John Everhart
April 17th 2012
12:45pm

Interesting thoughts, Joseph. I put that in there because I didn’t hear the finished version (Jason tweaked it till the last minute), but now I’d unequivocally say that it’s my favorite record he’s done since Ladies & Gentlemen, and I’ve loved them all. Amazing Grace is perhaps my third favorite, followed by Pure Phase. This review isn’t meant to denigrate any of those efforts. I mainly made the comparison because Jason’s gone on record discussing how the Ladies & Gentlemen shows galvanized him in a sense that they made him consider what goes into a record that’s considered a “classic,” why it’s considered a classic (largely media buildup), and where Sweet Heart fits into that equation being the creation of a wizened veteran of the craft. Read the piece in the new magazine for elucidation, but what does this have to do with the actual music on the album? Not much. It stands on its own, and its sensational I think.