I quite like Bob Marley, some U2 stuff is okay and I’m a bit ‘take it or leave it‘ with Dylan. I know others who feel the same. Spiritualized are not a band who conjure up these kind of feelings. Some are left utterly cold and bewildered by Jason Pierce and co’s own version of garage blues/gospel/rock whereas some treat it as an almost religious experience. It is definitely music that divides opinion.
Recorded over two years and mixed in one more (during which time Pierce was suffering from a very serious liver disease), Sweet Heart Sweet Light is the seventh studio album by the band and the first since 2008’s Songs in A&E. Inspired by the reaction to touring 1997’s masterpiece Ladies & Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, Pierce stated during recording that this on would be more “poppy”. Well, I’m not sure I’d call it that, but it’s certainly more accessible than the previous couple of releases by Rugby’s answer to Brian Wilson.
After a nice, lilting orchestral introduction opening in the form of Huh?, things get going properly with first single, Hey Jane. A nine minute stomper with a bit of everything from a mid song musical breakdown to a soaring gospel finish, this really gets things started and sets the rest of the record up well.
Following this is Little Girl, which wouldn’t look out of place on 2001’s Let It Come Down. Opening line, “Sometimes I wish that I was dead, ‘cos only the living can feel the pain”, sets the scene for what is lyrically quite a maudlin song. However this is lost behind a simple, but uplifting tune.
Get What You Deserve and Headin’ for the Top Now both follow the tried and tested Spiritualized formula of a driving repetitive melody, squalling guitars and the feeling of being on train journey (listen carefully and you’ll see what I mean). Each tune is perfectly good, but neither will really set the world alight.
Sandwiched in between these two rockier numbers, is one of the highlights of the album. Too Late is wilting lament to the perils of falling in love. Nobody quite does this type of song in the same way as J. Spaceman with it’s flowing strings and swooning vocals, this is right up there with his best work.
Up next, we have Freedom. A track that owes a lot to the Rolling Stones circa Sticky Fingers. Whilst no bad thing, you do tend to feel that there is something absent and Pierce has surprisingly missed a golden opportunity to finish the song by sending it out of Earth’s orbit and to somewhere near Jupiter.
Up to this point Sweet Heart Sweet Light is by no means an average album, but you do feel it is need of a little something to get it going again. I Am What I Am (co-written with Dr John, no less) is where things begin to pick up. A semi-funky bass line underpins an almost sinister vocal and works as precursor to the wonderfully groovy Mary. Bass, again, is this song’s friend. Pierce’s voice becomes fragmented and pleading and tails off just as a maelstrom of guitars, strings, horns and God knows what else come in to finish off a piece of music that only this band could get away with.
Life Is a Problem makes use of the standard Jesus/God/Heaven references that fans have got used to over the years. It is a bit Spiritualized by numbers, but that doesn’t make it bad. Remember, there is no middle ground, you either love ‘em or hate ‘em.
Finishing up is the highlight of the album, So Long You Pretty Thing. Co-written and partly co-sung with Pierce’s 11 year old daughter, it once again uses religious imagery in abundance before going off into a wonderful climax that Embrace could only dream of and if Elbow were to do it, would have the mainstream press bowing at it’s feet. Truly wonderful.
All in all, Sweet Heart Sweet Light will do nothing to win over those who don’t “get it”, but for newcomers, it is a great place to start. Old fans will love it and in my opinion, it’s their best work since at least Let it Come Down and possibly Ladies and Gentlemen. Hopefully, a live version of this album will be released, as having seen most of these songs a couple of times in the flesh over the past few months, I can honestly say that even the slightly weaker ones come into their own and the better ones become sonic masterpieces.
Our Rating 4/5
Standing Out: Too Late, Mary, So Long You Pretty Thing
- Huh? (Intro)
- Hey Jane
- Little Girl
- Get What You Deserve
- Too Late
- Headin’ for the Top Now
- I Am What I Am
- Life Is a Problem
- So Long You Pretty Thing