By the time Spiritualized‘s psych-rock maestro Jason Pierce hits “Life is a Problem” on his seventh statement here, 20 years deep into recording music, orchestrating another string-drenched, overwrought Jesus nod, you’d think that God would strike the man down already in the name of blasphemy. Or at least mercy. But there in lies the beauty of Sweet Heart Sweet Light and Pierce’s craft in general – his dedication to chasing another magnum opus.
Let’s set some words straight here: Pierce is not overwrought. And said religious themes are almost always quizzical in nature. Hence Sweet Heart…’s record cover, an allusion to another brush with his mortality – his heart stopped twice while battling pneumonia a few years ago – and the regiment of drugs that rendered him stupefied while fending off a degenerative liver disease. Both of which inadvertently give him an overwrought pass, anyhow.
And Pierce’s trademark swelling grandiosity doesn’t even hit successively hard until the those aforementioned final moments of the record. He’s built a momentum through the first half that calls upon his penchant for everything from jangle-punk (“Hey Jane“) to wall-of-sound soul freak out (“Headin’ for the Top Now“) and southern rock gospel (“Freedom“) that’s just as charging as the much beloved ’97 landmark Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space. With far less of the self-loathing and evangelicalism that spawned the few haters of the the latter. “Hey Jane” is a dashboard pounder of a love song, too rock to loathe:
Hey Jane, where are you going today?
You broke my heart then you ran away
Some say you got a rotten soul
But I say Janey loves rock and roll
The same goes for the tambourine and feedback harbinger stomp of howling self-appreciation “I Am What I am,” Pierce making no apologies, hammering away a plunky piano line, swaggering:
I am I what I am
Got it in my hands
Hear what I say
See what I am
Haters will cite “Too Late” and its edelweiss-cheese lull of an opening line, “My momma said when she got so concerned/Don’t play with fire and you’ll never get burned.” Or “Mary” and its incessant two extra minutes of lyric-less horn-battered jam wailing. But those are the people who don’t get it. Don’t get the mystic weaving of American sounds with a gothic Brit-pop mastermind at the helm, unforgivingly hungry for the serenity that a concept album can only satiate, threading a tender eight-minute ballads with his 11-year-old daughter (“So Long You Pretty Thing“). Call Pierce’s health issues a copout crutch for his elongated rock majestics all you want. But then go and try and make a record as sweepingly tapestried and life-affirmative as Sweet Heart Sweet Light.