Tuesday 3 April 2012

Spiritualized - Sweet Heart Sweet Light

Album review by KevW

This article also appears on http://www.soundsxp.com

Since the angelic hum of Lazer Guided Melodies captured hearts and minds some twenty years ago, Spiritualized's sound, like their line-up, has gradually evolved. Having pushed the concept to a majestic orchestral climax with 2001's 'Let It Come Down', Jason Pierce took things back to basics with 'Amazing Grace', completing the record in just three weeks as opposed to the previous effort's four years. Where Pierce went next was the big question, answered with 'Songs In A&E' which saw him embrace traditional songcraft, beginning the writing process with an acoustic guitar. Despite containing a handful of his best songs, the bleak outlook (partly inspired by his brush with death) and more organic construction left some long-time fans feeling disappointed.

Four more years and another major illness have passed since then, now back to good health, vowing to embrace more poppy songs and using "lost" 70s albums by Link Wray, The Beach Boys and Dion as inspiration, Spiritualized return with their seventh studio album 'Sweet Heart Sweet Light', with Pierce stating that making a great album isn't difficult, it just takes time. Arrogant? A little, but fans are used to having to wait between Spiritualized albums and most would concede that this perfectionist approach pays dividends, as well as adding a sense of occasion that's all too rare with music releases in the digital era.

Whether or not 'Sweet Heart Sweet Light' was worth the wait is an easy question to answer: a resounding yes. Anyone hoping for a remake of 'Lazer Guided Melodies' will, of course, be out of luck. This record does use previous albums as touchstones though, not least 'Ladies & Gentleman...' whose influence can be heard sporadically throughout, due in part to Spiritualized having spent several months touring the work in full. 'Get What You Deserve' has lyrics that could have been written at the same time. "Used to care but I took care of that/Used to smoke but now I'm lightning" could be lifted from 'I Think I'm In Love'. Indeed past lyrical nods are all across these tracks: soul/fire/Jesus/heaven/death; it's all here.

If the nine-minute garage stomp of single 'Hey Jane' didn't give it away, claims that this is Spiritualized-goes-pop are somewhat unfounded. The equally sprawling psych-rock centrepiece 'Headin' For The Top Now' isn't exactly Stock Aitken & Waterman territory either, with its dense orchestration and flurries of distorted guitar. That said, this could be the most accessible album the band have ever produced. The utterly magical 'Little Girl' comes from a similar place as 'Soul On Fire' and the arrangements recall Harvest-era Neil Young, as does much of the album, particularly the backing vocals. The serene, hymnal 'Freedom' also has a beauty that's hard to resist.

'Life Is A Problem' is a breathtaking piece of gospel in the vein of 'Lord Can You Hear Me' and brings the album full circle, incorporating the brief introductory track 'Huh?' into its backing. There's something of a tradition of Spiritualized albums ending in grand fashion and final track 'So Long You Pretty Things' (on which his daughter Poppy gets a co-writing credit and provides backing vocals) is a match for any. It sounds like those lost 70s classics, it sounds like a pop track. It's also eight minutes long and steadily builds into one of the most euphoric moments of their career, despite being a parting gesture in more ways than one.

The music world has never been in step with Pierce's vision and in 2012 it's even less so than ever, and this is the exact reason why Spiritualized remain so vital and Jason Pierce such a unique and outstanding talent. Whether or not making this great album was, as suggested, simply a matter of taking time is irrelevant. All that matters is that it is great and will without question only grow more so with the ravages of time. J. Spaceman, I take my hat off to you once again.

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Spiritualized's website

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