Review: Spiritualized – Sweet Heart Sweet Light
Published on April 21st, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
Spiritualized main man Jason ‘J. Spaceman’ Pierce has certainly been through the wars, and to learn that he was undergoing chemotherapy while making this follow-up to 2008’s bluesy Songs in A&E might help explain the great big ‘Huh?’ on the artwork.
Happily, though, there is some good to come of his ordeal as the disorientating effects filtered down to the listener are frequently quite wondrous to behold, not to mention conducive to imbuing with a strange poignancy that still-crystal-clear memory of tearing open the tin foil packaging of Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space all those years ago.
“Huh? (Intro)” signifies epic straight from the off with sweeping strings and the kind of impossibly high-pitched saw that could have featured in the magical score of a first-golden-age Disney movie, and then “Hey Jane”…well, “Hey Jane” is perhaps the most epic thing that this writer has heard all year. An energising rocker laced with ditzily high-pitched la la las, it kind of sounds like – and bear with me here – Lou Reed when he was good (“‘Sweet Jane’ on the radio” even features as a lyric) fronting a latter-day Oasis, or at least a more enraptured, less workmanlike version thereof, and one capable of deploying the kind of atonal progressions that wouldn’t even occur to Noel Gallagher.
In short, it reminds of much yet takes on such a monumental form of its own that comparisons don’t quite cut it. Pierce sets the tone for the album’s lyrical themes with “Ain’t got time to make no mistakes / Ain’t got time to waste my time with you”, conceivably a perspective borne out of the precariousness of his health, and the whole thing comes to a terrifically cacophonous head, fooling you into thinking the end of the song is nigh when really it’s just got started.
Back in it comes with a driving, monotone bassline and gigantic guitar riff which play off each other to wonderfully discordant effect as Pierce repeats “hey Jane, when you gonna die?”, his delivery now rather more choked and vulnerable. Soon enough there’s a gospel choir-like group harmonising on the titular refrain, mixed just low enough to maintain the vast uncleanliness of the mix, a quality which brings to mind not only medicinal disorientation but also the blinding effects of blaring sunlight. White light/white heat, you might say.
Suffice it to say “Hey Jane” is a pretty hard act to follow, but for the most part Sweet Heart Sweet Light succeeds in doing it justice. “Little Girl” introduces an attractively restrained verse to a big old singalong chorus, in which the perspective-reinforcing lyrics “Here today and then we’re gone / Before we ride into the sun / Get it on” leads into the album’s most satisfying chord change, before “Get What You Deserve” whips out a shimmering synth zap of such overwhelming staring-directly-into-the-sun-ness that just listening to it makes you squint.
Mirroring its lyrical pledge to “make the water last”, “Get What You Deserve” is one of those rare songs that can sustain itself satisfactorily across seven minutes with just two alternating chords, the fascination lying in what’s plied on top of this simple set-up rather than the nuts and bolts of the song-craft. It’s bound to test some people’s patience, but those who already know roughly what to expect from Spiritualized should allow themselves to surrender to its heavenwards ascent and eventual, thrilling cacophony. It’s glorious, so much so that it casts the ensuing “Too Late” into a certain amount of shade, elegant quasi-waltz that it is.
“Headin’ for the Top Now” is another two-chord wonder with so much going on in the mix that its simplicity doesn’t detract from the overall effect. Tinkling piano chords keep things rooted on this planet as frantically squelching ‘n’ buzzing guitars/synths (could be either, really) try to catapult the whole thing into space, ladies and gentlemen. This is skyscraping chamber-shoegaze in the Spiritualized tradition, and with a clever and catchy vocal melody that propels it all engagingly forward.
From then on, the splendour seems to be dialled down a touch, but there is still much to enjoy and/or admire. “Freedom” is a sweet, gentle comedown number, “I Am What I Am” a blues stomp that brings the squall-y bells and whistles back out in force, “Mary” a paranoid mini-epic featuring the possibly self-flagellating lines “You know you’re getting beat in the morning / Spend the night on the tiles / You know you’re only searching for glory / But now you gone and missed it by miles”, while “Life is a Problem” brings out the saw (or whatever it is) again, pleading to Jesus for salvation and forgiveness in presumably a non-literal way, remarking pointedly that “my willpower’s never too strong”.
All of which leaves “So Long You Pretty Thing” to ensure that Sweet Heart Sweet Light is bookended, “Huh? (Intro)” notwithstanding, by true Spiritualized epics. “Help me Lord, help me Jesus / ‘Cause I’m living a lie” Pierce continues over a softly burning union of banjo and strings, the music itself certainly more uplifting than the lyrical likes of “Help me Lord, it’s getting harder / ‘Cause I’m losing all the time / I’ve got no reason to be living any more”.
“So Long You Pretty Thing” then transforms itself into a thing of great majesty, triumphant brass and all, as Pierce repeats the refrain of “So long you pretty thing, God save your little soul / The music that you played so hard ain’t on your radio / And all your dreams of diamond rings and all that rock and roll can bring you / Sail on / So long”. If he’s singing about his own unfulfilled dreams then we can only hope that he takes solace from the fact that he has yet again delivered an artistic statement worth infinitessimally more than vapid superstardom.
Rocksucker says: Four Quails out of Five!