Spiritualized, ‘Sweet Heart Sweet Light’ – Album Review
Jason Pierce has long expressed a weary search for redemption — whether through the promise of romantic love, the fix offered by narcotics, or salvation from a higher power — in the space-gospel of Spiritualized, of which he is the lone continuous member. At its best, the band engenders intoxicated catharsis, the draining relief of a hangover broken. But in the band’s more indulgent moments, they never sweat out the sickness. This is why ‘Sweet Heart Sweet Light,’ which may be Pierce’s leanest (and most pop) album to date, is also one of their best.
As Pierce said in a recent interview, the pop sound is more difficult to compose. Experimental music allows the artist to hide in abstraction, while the songs here are much more forthright: ‘Little Girl’ describes a kind of predatory love, all swelling strings and feathery backing vocals fluttering along with the sticky-sweet lyric fatalism before crashing into a jumble of sounds midway through. ‘Hey Jane’ is also alternately sunny and saturnine, “Hey Jane when you’re gonna die / that pain goes right inside”‘ from a verse on ‘Hey Jane’ or the equally sunny and saturnine, “Hey girl we’re here alone / here today and then we’re gone.”
While Pierce has said before that his lyrics are ”just language,” the singsong nihilism of his vocal content contrasts with instrumental uplift, though perhaps there’s something lurking beneath the welcoming organ of ‘Hey Jane’ or the xylophone-piano-guitar swirl of ‘Headin’ for the Top’ — the specter that, for all of the talk of driving with Jesus or longing for a lover, of a there’s “heaven deep inside,” one that he “should find,” but it seems, he doesn’t.
The near-death experiences — double pneumonia technically killed him twice in 2006 — and the long-implied drug use seem to have left Pierce to a language of exhaustion, as in ‘Get What You Deserve’: “I used up all my affection,” and later, “I’ve used up all my emotion.” This, then, may be the key to armchair psychoanalysis of Pierce and his beautiful-tragic songcraft. He is a man of desire, of curiosity.
“Don’t touch the flame and you’ll never find out / my momma said that’s what loves all about / but it’s too late,” he mumbles in ‘Too Late.’ It has been too late for Pierce, more than once: when he had breakfast from a spoon in 1997, or when he died twice in 2006 or, in 2012, when he made the best indie pop album of the young year.