Spiritualized – Sweet Heart, Sweet Light

written by: April 16, 2012
Release Date: April 17th, 2012


Context plays a key role in understanding Jason Pierce’s art. If you didn’t know that his masterpiece, Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, was written in a junk and breakup infused state, one might not fully appreciate the magnificence of “Cop Shoot Cop.” But full practical context doesn’t necessarily make “Come Together” sound any more world-spanning. On the basis of strict sonic pleasure, Spiritualized comes remarkably easily – wall of sound Britpop sung by a feeble little man. Textural subtleties are more of a fans reward for sticking through Pierce’s frequently marathon LPs.

Just so, Sweet Heart, Sweet Light, Spiritualized’s seventh album, is a record that at first seems more on the nose than anything Pierce has ever created then deepens with each successive listen. Exhaustingly long (just a few seconds short of a full hour) for a pop-rock record, Sweet Heart builds off of the conceptual framework of Pierce playing the most accessible music that he can possibly think of. As he’s said in interviews, the pop elements of his music are the most difficult; Sweet Heart is an attempt to subvert this difficulty and turn it into a strength. Where the magnificent Songs in A & E dove into the jangly and roughshod, this album is on its face constructed and clean.

That is, until one reads to context. While recording Sweet Heart, Pierce was battling a degenerative disease with a experimental concoction of medicines, sometimes rendering him completely exhausted during periods of recording. Pierce’s voice has never sounded so weak and raspy, no doubt due to this impossible set of circumstances he’s put himself in. Sweet Heart’s themes all tread this near-death line as well, although that’s nothing outside of Spiritualized’s wheelhouse. Even the sunny moments are flecked with the morose – amid the cheerful euphoria of “Hey Jane,” Pierce slips in the line “Hey Jane, when you gonna die?

Unlike Spiritualized albums of the recent and not so recent past, however, the music accompaniment to Pierce’s death bed poetry is far cheerier than in other places. He’s still an anthemic master – the chorus of “Too Late” is a lighter raiser without a doubt – but for the first time his music sounds visibly happier than he does. “Hey Jane,” “Too Late,” “Little Girl” and “Get What You Deserve” are heavy on the British rock influences, particularly the Beatles. In his struggle to embrace solid pop music, Pierce hits a sweet spot a couple of time (“Hey Jane” is an all-timer), but misses the mark just a bit too much. “Little Girl” is endearing, but Pierce’s sticky sweet verse and the pure pop sonics are a little overcooked – Spiritualized succeeds when it tempers Pierce’s romance with noise. On this subject, “Get What You Deserve” is a hellfire – sitar, raucous drums and a violent Pierce coalescing to fire off a mystifying track. The second half of the record is more strictly Spiritualized; “Headed for the Top Now” and “I am What I Am,” to varying degrees, emulate the beautiful chaos of Songs in A & E. “I am What I Am” takes too much from Pierce’s ill-fated gospel phase, but “Headed” is vicious.

The last three tracks are what’s most interesting about Sweet Heart, Sweet Light, and largely split the fans of Spiritualized into two camps – those who embrace Pierce going full bore into his romanticism and nearness to death, and those who want the noise back. “Mary” lists forward with a out of tune brass section as Pierce strains his voice out to turn everyone away from him. If there is a lyrical construct behind Sweet Heart, it’s the realization of mortality at the very end, accepting impending death and understanding those around us that do accept such fate. “Mary” is as much self-defeating as pointed criticism – PIerce is leaving, so his partner needs to move on so that he doesn’t cause her more pain.

Jason Pierce is a weak man, physically and emotionally. “Life is a Problem” is this thesis as a song – a man who before spurned religion’s influence now walks forward to Christ in violent and accelerative imagery. In a moving melodic coda to the “Huh? (Intro),” Pierce’s worldview becomes manifest: “I’m lost and I’m gone / and this life is too long / and my willpower was never too strong.” Maybe it isn’t acceptance of death, but a release of pain. For a man who has suffered much in his life, such a beautiful, cinematic closer is sweet, and perfect.

But it’s not the end of a Spiritualized album without gigantism, is it? In an ending that echoes Oasis in both good and bad ways, “So Long You Pretty Thing” shifts from a “Life is a Problem” clone to a apocalyptically big three and a half minute closing blast, featuring a magnificent line. People viewing Spiritualized without context will read “So long you pretty thing, God save your little soul / the music that you played so hard ain’t on your radio / and all your dreams of diamond rings and of all that rock n’ roll could bring you’ve sailed on / so long” as a sweet goodbye to a loved one. For those who are invested in Pierce’s story, though, the message flips back on itself. Instead of saying goodbye to someone else, Pierce seems to imagine his own elegy. In gigantic, bright and trumpetful fashion, Pierce somewhat fittingly puts a capper on his own life.

Does Sweet Heart, Sweet Light deserve such a massive ending? It depends on how successful you think Pierce’s foray into straight Britpop was. Whether poignant and moving or cloying and unearned, the latest of iteration of Spiritualized will certainly be polarizing. But the beautiful thing about Jason Pierce’s music is that polarity isn’t based on whether you know the backstory. Spiritualized, whether by single or by mammoth album, by success or by overreaching failure, is a band for everybody.

Spiritualized – Sweet Heart, Sweet Light tracklist:

  1. “Huh? (Intro)”
  2. “Hey Jane”
  3. “Little Girl”
  4. “Get What You Deserve”
  5. “Too Late”
  6. “Headin’ for the Top Now”
  7. “Freedom”
  8. “I Am What I Am”
  9. “Mary”
  10. “Life Is a Problem”
  11. “So Long You Pretty Thing”