Spiritualized’s head pastor Jason Pierce, after 20 years of album-making, has forced himself into re-working well-trod scripture and reiterated motifs. Because it’s not broken, he doesn’t fix it. It’s hard for these new tunes on “Sweet Heart, Sweet Light” to not sound like something that’s been made before.
The group boasts the same confluence of influences from the ‘60s and ‘70s into a pop pickled in psychedelia. Sonically skronky songs like “Headin’ for the Top Now” and Dr. John co-penned “I Am What I Am” drone into musical wallpaper, sitting instrumentally on top of a single note or oscillating between two as J Spaceman (Pierce’s other name) slides off-key up and down his easy melodies, a pack of wild cheerleaders leading the way. On single “Hey Jane
” and “Get What You Deserve,” he again gives way humping Lou Reed’s grave even before the Velvets’ main man is even dead (something to which Mr. Reed may not be all that averse
) with climactic bursts of blissed-out white noise.
And I don’t mean the sexual metaphor purely provocatively: violence and pleasure, death and life and borrowing and taking are among Pierce’s favorite lyrical themes, with a couple cameos from recurring character Jesus, on whom Pierce places some of his most despairing and simple lyrics. These sometimes border on false profundity, like on woozy “Freedom” and sing-song ballad “Too Late” (which is a perfect partner with “Baby I’m Just a Fool” from 2008’s “Songs in A&E”).
All these are good for collectors to hear, but it’s the clincher – album closer “So Long You Pretty Thing” – that could make new converts. The track’s epic proportion still feels familiar, with Spaceman’s inviting vocals paired with his instrumental kindred in a plonky-plonk banjo, the slow-burn swelling into a choir of “help me Lords” and schemes that put rhyming bedfellows radio/souls/and rock ‘n’ roll together.
This current Spiritualized devolution of genre is still blurry, but bright, tied together with cacophony and clarity. Pierce’s ability to write lasting songs is still skillful and strong, and will doubtless keep his patrons coming back.