REVIEW: Spiritualized - Sweet Heart Sweet Light

Spiritualized

"This is the best music that Pierce has created since Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space."

I was there.  I can’t say that for many legendary shows, e.g. Nirvana at Stache’s, Morrissey at Wolverhampton, Pulp at Glastonbury, or Bob Dylan in Manchester.  But I did see Spiritualized perform “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space” at Radio City Music Hall in 2010.  Jason Pierce played his neo-hymns with a full gospel choir, orchestra, brass band, and two drummers:  The perfect setting for his grandiose meditation on the torrents of love.   The music swung from free jazz squalls to saturnine expressions of helplessness.  Every time the music seemed to have hit a glass ceiling, voices or chiming guitars pulled it up towards greater heights.  The crowd left the Hall exhausted and happy they glimpsed the far side of the Milky Way.  

With his new album, Sweet Heart, Sweet Light, Pierce proves once again that maturity doesn’t necessarily mean the loss of inspiration.  Jason Piece, aka J Spaceman, writes simple melodies.  They pick up new timbres and dissonance like new moons coming in and out of the orbit of their home planets.  The smallest ideas, say, an A to D chord strummed over and over, are played with the absolute conviction that you can find God’s forgiveness and relief from alienation if you just play loud enough for the sound to reach heaven.  It’s doubtful you can actually get there, but it’s wonderful to hear Spiritualized try.

The record starts off with “Hey Jane,” a stunning paean to the Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane” and “White Heat, White Light.”  Divided into two parts, it’s linked by a chugging guitar riff driving in the background (a la “Sister Ray”).  The first part makes you want to put on shades and go for a drive on an empty road.  The second part makes you glad to be alive.  He chants “Sweet Jane on the radio” and “sweet heart, sweet light/love of my life” over and over, adding and discarding a choir.  You get the feeling that Pierce would be happy playing this song into infinity, and only the dictates of vinyl made him cut it down from two hours to nine minutes.  I would love to hear the director’s cut.  

Next up is “Little Girl,” which starts with a few bars of almost 70’s disco strings.  This leads into clean arpeggiated chords and sturdy tambourine thwacks.  While starting off normal enough for a Spiritualized song (complete with the lyrics “Sometimes I wish that I were dead”) it veers from his usual piteous track.  Pierce instead borrows heavily from Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” and Al Green in an attempt to get his love interest “to get it on.”   Whether this wooing strategy (let’s get together because we are going to die soon) ever worked is a mystery.  But it’s nonetheless fun to hear Pierce put these desperate moves on his paramour.  

Then there’s “Freedom.”  It starts of unadorned, almost like the uncomfortable,but beautiful, closeness of a Sparklehorse song.   It’s one of the most slow-burning and stripped-down pieces of music that he has written.  It still features a choir (this is Spiritualized we are talking about), but it’s not used to expand the song’s sonic wallop, only to underscore the point he is trying to get across:  “Freedom is yours if you want/you just don’t know what you need/I made up my mind to leave you behind/You just don’t know what you feel.”  

The album ends in a prayer of sorts.  Pierce’s eleven-year old daughter charmingly helps him this time. But the song finds him on familiar territory.  It starts slowly, and (for the most part) repeats the same lyrical and musical phrases.  But along the way it gets bigger and bigger, like a giant disco ball that flickers at first, but then is lit into a full realization of glittering reflection.  Like the rest of “Sweet Heart, Sweet Light,” it’s mesmerizing and religious. Even to most secular of souls.  

This is the best music that Pierce has created since Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space.  While playing the songs from this record won’t quite recreate the magic conjured up the Radio City Music Hall, it’s an excellent addition to his thirty year musical career.

Verdict:  Buy it.