Jason Pierce, the mastermind behind Spiritualized, released his seventh studio album under that moniker titled Sweet Heart Sweet Light on Double Six Records. Pierce has always been the core and the commandant of Spiritualized; similar to how Trent Reznor operates Nine Inch Nails. This album features over forty musicians, most of them contributing to vocals and the choir that could be heard on numerous songs which includes Pierce’s own daughter, Poppy Spaceman, and the Icelandic band Amiina. Sweet Heart Sweet Light is arguably the most accomplished record of Pierce’s career; NME award-winning Ladies and Gentleman We Are Floating in Space is definitely the best Spiritualized record but Pierce’s earlier records were not brought forth with the highest expectations in regards to longevity and capability. This record brings Pierce and Spiritualized fans a sense of gratitude towards this original and charming collection of music that has been delivered for two decades now. When describing the band’s music as space rock, the term “atmospheric” becomes obvious. However there is a new-found atmosphere that Pierce explores which is self-pity and doubt but Spiritualized has never sounded so comforting.
Spiritualized’s I Am What I Am
The album commences with the familiar majestic feeling that is revealed on every Spiritualized album. “Huh?”, the original title of this album, is a violin-induced orchestral introduction that preps the audience for the lead single, “Hey Jane”. Already an early candidate for the music video of the year, Hey Jane is one of the rare moments where Pierce questions on this record instead of already knowing his fate, constantly asking Jane “where you’re going today?”. A noticeable feature on this track is that it is a lot more accessible and perhaps easier to listen to because of the strong notion of early sixties and seventies mainstream pop. There is no denying it is still vintage Spiritualized and that makes its presence felt right away but this is definitely more radio friendly and Pierce has come a long way since Lazer Guided Melodies (the debut Spiritualized album).
There are so many musical styles on this record that it makes it impossible to search for a word beyond “rock” and “pop” that would help classify this band. Soul, shoegaze, early rhythm and blues and even noise are all elements that contribute to Spiritualized’s revolutionary sound. “Headin’ For The Top Now” is guitar driven rock at its best, with touches of old soul and the fuzz aspect of shoegaze. “Get What You Deserve” has the epic and familiar vocal harmonies; ones that Pierce makes sure he brings out the best in his female vocalists. “Headin’ For The Top” is a lengthily, fuzzed-out jam that often dabbles into noise and experimental-styled music.
The album’s purest ballad is “Too Late”; a melancholic arrangement that astonishingly borrows classical elements from centuries ago. “I Am What I Am” is not only an ode to self-figuration but it has that familiar Spiritualized guitar strumming, complete with noisy, high-pitched frequencies that tie in together perfectly with soul, rhythm and blues and even Western influences. “Freedom” is arguably the most beautifully melancholic song on the album where Pierce says: “Freedom is yours if you want it/You just don’t know what you need”. These powerful words stick out to an audience who ask themselves the question of freedom in a real-life scenario; it is the needs and choices people make that must be questioned. At times, these songs sound like those of larger acts and fellow countrymen Coldplay and The Verve.
“Mary”, which is found towards the end, is the first bit of anger and frustration from Pierce. Then emotions go downhill from there. “Life is A Problem” is nearly suicidal, where Pierce admits he is ready to leave and never see his mother again. Not sure if this is a comical approach or an actual summoning of spirits but either way Pierce’s sad and toned-down attitude is quite touching. The song also serves as a perfect intro to the album’s closer, “So Long You Pretty Thing”, where Pierce mentions the Lord and Jesus Christ once more, saying: “Help me Lord, help me Jesus/‘cause I’m lonely and tired”. He also wishes the best for a certain someone: “So long you pretty thing/Save your little soul”. This could be of the most perfect ways of saying goodbye.
This album has a somber connection with the process of departure. It is not as anthem-driven or slow as Songs in A&E, but the self-pity and beauty of this album may not be found anywhere else on the band’s previous material. Stylistically, there is never a dull moment on a Spiritualized album. It is not that the albums cannot be listed under a musical category or genre but it skins the surface of so many categories it just becomes confusing trying to label them. It’s hard not to ask oneself or at least be curious about Pierce’s mindset as a musician, writer and an artist. All these elements fused together are risky and Pierce excels not only by making it work but by making it beautifully arranged and composed. These musical parts found in Spiritualized’s songs are constructed like a puzzle; each piece is broken at first and the goal is to connect everything together. Then when all the pieces are put together, the result equals a song or the finished work that is not exactly the norm but eccentric and undeniably impressive. The album is highly emotional through out; it starts almost as if he is trying to confront something or someone and then he has given up and is ready to walk away.
This may not be as brilliant as prior works but it would be foolish to dismiss this album or pass it by, it has a little bit of something for everyone and it is highly entertaining through out. Comparing it to the album’s that were released prior to Sweet Heart Sweet Light, it may not be considered a masterpiece to most but it is a freakishly good album. This album is worth more than just a listen, even if one is to explore the band for the first time; Sweet Heart Sweet Light is a good opportunity to do so. Who knows for sure if this is Spiritualized’s swan song but what a way to go out if it is.
By Alex Giardini
OurVinyl | Contributor
[Below is the music video for Hey Jane]