Sweet Heart Sweet Light continues to gets its hooks into me (and it really is bristling with hooks), so I’ve been reading around on it. Jason Pierce has been doing the interview rounds: apart from the Guardian interview I linked yesterday, there’s one at Pitchfork and another at Stereogum, where he said:

There are an awful lot of records ... made by people that, whether they want to or not, they've soaked up a bit of that wisdom. ... You might think of them as the great, but often forgotten, mid-period records by big artists. There is this group of records that probably outnumber the records that people hailed as the classics, or the big moves in rock and roll, and they seem like the very backbone, the spine, of the music I love. I wanted to make one of those kinds of records, one of those things that befitted my age a little bit more.

Stereogum loved the album, as did Pitchfork and many others, but the reviews haven’t all been sweetness and light. The Quietus bagged it and Drowned in Sound were ambivalent, while The Observer’s reviewer wrote “It is hardly fair to carp that this seventh Spiritualized album engenders a sense of deja vu; deja vu is what they do” before proceeding to carp. I prefer the take of a Guardian reviewer of a recent live gig:

One other way to think about Spiritualized today is not as a tribute band to all those other acts, but a tribute to everything Spiritualized have ever done, as Pierce gets ever closer to that Platonic ideal of sound in his head.

As for me, Sweet Heart Sweet Light pulls together all the elements of post-Ladies and Gentlemen Spiritualized that never quite gelled for me—the orchestras, the gospel choirs, the overt Velvets influences—and makes them work. The luscious intro of “Huh?” followed by the romp of “Hey Jane” are irresistible, and the album’s high point, but the rest stands up to it. The middle of the album alternates between long freakouts and surprisingly mainstream pop-rock ballads, of which “Too Late” is another album highlight. One of the reviews above dismisses the last three tracks altogether, but I thought they made a satisfying finale; after album after album of hearing Pierce drone on about Jesus, there was something entertainingly expected yet unexpected in hearing him ask the big guy to be his radio, automobile, aeroplane, bullet and gun in “Life is a Problem”. And the closing track “So Long You Pretty Thing” is a real grower. I’m not sure yet if the album will come to equal those two older favourites in my affections, but it has more of a shot at it than Amazing Grace ever did.

18 April 2012 · Music