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Album Review
Sweet Heart Sweet Light

Sweet Heart Sweet Light
by Spiritualized

Double Six Reocrds

Review Date
23rd May 2012
Reviewed by
Michael Harvey

Jason Pierce has had a storied career as a neo-psychedelic shoegaze pioneer in the one-chord mantras of Spacemen 3. That group split rather acrimoniously in the late eighties, leaving Pierce and some of the remaining members to form Spiritualized. Debuting in 1992 with Lazer Guided Melodies, the group reached more fully for the stratosphere then even his previous band, sublimating the psychedelic influences that were prevalent in the heady currents of British music at the time. The band had a major breakthrough with 1997's Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating In Space, which unveiled at deeper gospel influence that has since become much more prominent on their later records, particularly 2001's Amazing Grace. Before he was able to record 2008's Songs In A&E, however, Pierce nearly died of pneumonia, and it was this brush with death that, for better or worse, has influenced the songs of Spiritualized's latest record, Sweet Heart Sweet Light.

A brief intro opens the album before "Hey Jane" kicks in with a rollicking guitar line and choral vocals. It takes 8 minutes to reach it's conclusion, breaking down mid-way before resuming it's Velvets-esque chug (nodded to with the line "Sweet Jane on the radio"). It's a joyous start to the album, though the following track "Little Girl" brings things down quite a bit with its opening lyric: "Sometimes I wish that I was dead 'cos only the living can feel the pain." "Get What You Deserve" continues on this rather self-piteous lyrical bent -- to be sure, Pierce has had a very intense last few years, but the marriage of the lyrics with the string contributions of Icelandic quartet Amiina create a cloying sentimentality where they should be reaching for something deeper. This formula works better to some degree on "Heading For The Top Now" with it's insistent bass line building to a resounding climax, and a coda featuring Pierce's 11 year old daughter. "I Am What I Am", however, needs a wildly demented saxophone to widen its sonic palette from something that hasn't been heard elsewhere on the album. 

Sweet Heart Sweet Light is ultimately and obviously a redemptive album. Some of the songs almost work better outside of their context on the record - "Hey Jane" is an obvious single, in spite of its length - but put together with some of the more similar-sounding material here, Pierce sounds like he's treading water. The over-saturation of strings and choral refrains is partly responsible for this, and combined with the weight of the subject matter, the clouds only part for a precious few moments across the record. Whereas on previous albums Spiritualized effortlessly synthesised drugged-out psychedelic hymnals with gospel and blues tropes that didn't seem sophomoric, Sweet Heart Sweet Light comes across as if Pierce is taking a cheap shot toward emotional resonance, rather than hitting the listener in the heart. 


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