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Albums of 2012 – 21. Spiritualized – ‘Sweet Heart Sweet Light’

Life, love, death; Jesus as a car, Jesus as a radio, Jesus as a bullet and gun; heaven, earth, and the automobile in between: business as usual for Jason Pierce, then. 4 years after his last release (and a whole 15 years after the monumental success of Ladies and Gentleman, We Are Floating In Space) Sweet Heart Sweet Light unashamedly treads the same old ground, yet surprisingly never to a fault. In fact, it’s precisely the fact that Spiritualized are still capable of creating a masterwork with the same creative palette that makes Sweet Heart Sweet Light such an accomplishment.

Once again, Pierce and co.’s unique blend of psychedelica, gospel, and space-rock is nothing short of cinematic. Hey Jane, its storming nine-minute long opener, begins with a catchy enough guitar riff before gradually layering with organ and gospel backing vocals. It’s mid-way descent into cacophony, though chaotic enough, never disturbs pace, instead slowly segueing into an all-out blues rock-out, racing to the finish line. If there were such a thing as prog-pop, this would come pretty close to it. The rest of the album follows this formula: Get What You Deserve’s ebb and flow marries its weaving guitars with a gorgeous violin backdrop, and the orchestration on the highlight Too Late is tenderly beautiful.

You won’t find a record that’s more indebted to concept either. During the creative process, Pierce was undergoing experimental chemotherapy for his degenerative liver disease. He’s no stranger to chemical influence upon creative work, but this sobering inversion of the formula turns out to be the most effective catalyst for his time-perfected use of religion as a thematic device. As always, rock’n’roll is Spiritualized’s church, but this time pastor Pierce’s sermons hit harder: ‘sometimes I wish that I was dead, ‘cuz only the living can feel pain’ he sings on Little Girl – it’s devastatingly direct delivery only makes it all the more heart-breaking.

He’s careful not to fall headfirst into drug-induced melancholia though – see the uplifting major-key chorus of closer So Long You Pretty Thing or the take-it-or-leave-it sentiment of I Am What I Am. Granted, it took a lot to reach this point, but the deeply nostalgic journey of Sweet Heart Sweet Light is as much a musical triumph as a personal one.

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