Album: Sweet Heart Sweet Light
Label: Double Six Records
April 23, 2012
The veteran space rock outfit stays faithful to their winning formula with solid yet uninspiring results.
Since 1997’s Ladies and Gentlemen We are Floating in Space, Spiritualized has been a band with a well-defined sound of their own. Britpop guitar work and melodic sensibility, lush orchestration, gospel leanings, the occasional ambient soundscape or horn section, and a touch of the blues. Oh yeah, not to mention a drugged-out swagger dotted with drone sections a la The Velvet Underground (think John Cale without the, um, violin?) and a propensity to freak the fuck out in small, controlled bursts. There is somewhat of a dichotomy in Spiritualized’s sound, but it certainly compliments frontman Jason Pierce’s English drawl and unstable mood-swings of lyrics. Spiritualized’s entire oeuvre seems like an amalgam of every single cathartic chorus, crescendo, and climax in popular music consolidated into, I don’t know, just one of their 8-minute songs?
That being said, this bricolage of sounds and emotions, while a clusterfuck on paper, typically breeds great results. Pierce and friends manage to create both familiarity and awe in their maximalist anthems, and this talent continues less pronounced in Sweet Heart Sweet Light, their seventh effort. The orchestral number “Huh?” starts off Sweet Heart with a tender chorale. Quickly the band transitions into “Sweet Jane”, a 9-minute epic that sums up both the pop aspect and the noisy space rock soundscapes the band has become known for, creating a sense of urgency and modern-age paranoia in the process. From here, the band tours through a range of mental states leading towards the clichéd yet effective emotional redemption. “Little Girl” finds Jason Pierce in his manic-depressive comfort zone atop melancholy strings with such gems as “Sometimes I wish I were dead/ because only the living feel pain”. “Headin’ for the Top Now” employs clashing, abrasive guitars while remaining cautiously optimistic in tone. “Life is a Problem” finds Pierce’s religiosity directing him towards catharsis. Finally, “So Long You Pretty Thing” concludes the album with a country-esque ballad and a reserved sense of acceptance for unrequited love, the unknown, finding a purpose in life, and almost any other theme in modern times that fits under this nostalgic umbrella.
The most notable aspect of Sweet Heart is how the typical psychosis of Pierce, while still clearly evident, does not bleed into the music as much as in previous releases. And this is the most troubling part of the album. An album with an hour run length, an arching emotional story, a massive orchestra of instruments, and cover art as batshit as this one should have some oddity or singularity to shock and appall. Yet, the entire effort seems standard by these criteria. It is as if Spiritualized intended to create the most generic Spiritualized album possible, and in the process forgot to add the passion that has made previous efforts so striking in the first place. Like I had said before, Spiritualized has a very defined sound that breaks off into dichotomy at points, yet with Sweet Heart, the dichotomy is lost, loosing the dramatic tension that complimented Pierce’s theatrics. As a result, Sweet Heart often sounds dull, and any concept Pierce and co. tries to develop falls flat, leaving a collection of good pop tunes with no real innovation. Sweet Heat travels the road from despondence to redemption, yet it would benefit from more sidesteps in between.