Spiritualized-Sweet Heart Sweet Light
Fat Possum Records
Grade: 8.35 (B)
"Sometimes I wish that I was dead. Cause only the living can feel the pain." Those are the first lyrics that Spritualized front man Jason Pierce mutters off in a wounded tone on "Little Girl". It's the third song on his latest album from his project Spiritualized entitled "Sweet Heart Sweet Light". Those lyrics in themselves paint the picture for the whole album. Pierce has always been comfortable touching on themes like morality, religion, drugs, redemption and life being a big colossal disappointment. The music and songs are the muse for Pierce to be cathartic about those themes. To top it off, Pierce has found a new low for self-pity and self indulgence on "Sweet Heart Sweet Light". As song titles "Too Late", "I Am What I Am" and "Life Is A Problem" show their hands unabashedly to those two descriptions, one must be prepared for an album hinged on Pierce's mid life musings. Death is closer in your mid to late 40's. Here's some songs to remind us of that. Put that aside though, and you've got one of the most endearing albums of 2012 so far.
To get back to "Little Girl" again, it's my favorite song on "Sweet Heart Sweet Light". Pierce shows he knows how to write a good hook and chorus. He throws in ELO like strings and a trio of gospel singers in the chorus to hammer his point home: "I still have what it takes to write a bummed out, stone cold classic song." Listen to "Little Girl" a few times and you'll easily be hooked on the chorus: "Hey little girl, run along....here today and then you're gone." It's immediate, but maybe a bit inaccesible. And it works. That formula works on just about all the slower tunes on "Sweet Heart Sweet Light". When Pierce is feeling poignant, he still has the knack for a fantastic hook. "Too Late" glides by with beauty reminiscent of a Spiritualzed classic "I Think I'm In Love". "Freedom" and "Life Is A Problem" have the same beauty to them as well. The latter has Pierce quietly asking "Jesus please be there to take care of me" to an effect of sheer solemnness. Pierce has never had one of my favorite voices in music. But his somber tone is magnified more here either with his age or because there is no effects to his vocals. It's raw and it sounds haggard.
And in the spirit of Spiritualized "rock" songs, Pierce plays them with reckless abandon. No choruses are necessary on the fuzzed out goodness of "Sweet Jane" or "Headin' For The Top Now", just one giant hook to ride on is all that's needed. Both songs owes a ton of debt to The Velvet Underground. "Headin For The Top Now" is a "Sister Ray" like mammoth and "Sweet Jane" has a melody that would fit on "Loaded".
It's been 15 years since Spiritualized had their biggest moment with "Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Outer Space". Ever since then, Pierce has been trying to capture that album's brilliance with short results. Some could say this is the closest Pierce has come to that landmark album and I can't say I disagree. It's not in the same stratosphere but it's still a hell of a good listen. If you can get by the self indulgence and self pity and enjoy music to be uplifting through somber tones, you're going to love this one. If you're looking for something uplifting presented in a different package, run far far away from "Sweet Heart Sweet Light". I'm somewhere in between. I do know it's intriguing enough to go back to. I think I will when I'm in the mood for those days that the album cover presents. "Huh?"
JHO Picks: Sweet Jane, Little Girl, Too Late, So Long You Pretty Things