In Review: Spiritualized – Sweet Heart Sweet Light

Most Spiritualized’s albums are both showers and growers. Showers in that they are flashy, orchestral, sweeping, long, and often too sweet and saccharine, even when covering less-than-cheerful topics like addiction and death. Growers in the sense that, with enough plays such triteness eventually becomes a part of the charm, and you begin to forgive Spiritualized godhead Jason Pierce for his blown-up blues and gospel-aping songs about drugs, Jesus, and love. Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with Spiritualized’s MO at this point per se— especially when you’ve done as many drugs and been as close to death as Pierce has been— it’s just that much of Pierce’s recent work has failed to reach the same perilous highs as lauded watermark Ladies and Gentlemen We are Floating in Space (or my personal favorites Lazer Guided Melodies and Pure Phase).

Sweet Heart Sweet Light, the band’s seventh album, is ostensibly set to rectify and refocus the Spiritualized brand, with Pierce stating that the new LP was partly inspired by playing Ladies and Gentlemen live in its entirety. This certainly shows on monumental epics like “Get What You Deserve,” “Heading for the Top,” and the album’s lead single “Hey Jane.” These songs showcase what makes Spiritualized great— Pierce’s flatlined vocals set against droning squalls, heedless grooves, resonant bursts and crescendos, and occasionally, as on “Heading for the Top,” a lilting choir to cap off the chaos. Or take a demented blues track like “I Am What I Am,” a ravenous, swirling barnburner navigated by Pierce’s wry and detached lyrics.

However, these high points—and they are incredibly high—are interspersed with damaged ballads and torch songs about freedom, rock’n’roll, girls, playing with fire (hint: fire=love) more in the Songs in A & E/Amazing Grace mode. But the outcome fares better on Sweet Heart Sweet Light, and although these songs feature some the dumbest lyrics on the album, they still accumulate an irresistible beauty. Just when you thought a song like “Life is a Problem” couldn’t get anymore grating, you succumb to its widescreen serenity. The lyrical simplicity and symphonic posturing render half of the songs on Sweet Heart Sweet Light with an obviousness and open-heartedness that is often hard to like, but even harder to hate outright.

Taken as an experience, Sweet Heart Sweet Light runs the gamut—alternating scraping noise and droning feedback with delicate and placid orchestra music. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it’s a beautiful mess, and sometimes it’s flat—often within the same epic song. But it’s comforting that after all the creative indulgences and Pierce’s brushes with death, Spiritualized has emerged a re-invigorated outfit. I can’t wait for the album Pierce makes after revisiting Lazer Guided Melodies or Pure Phase.

– Review by Chance Dibben

Bonus: Stream Sweet Heart Sweet Light in its entirety via The Guardian