Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Spiritualized - Sweet Heart Sweet Light



I’m staring at the ‘Huh?’ album cover. It’s starting to confuse me because it has no relation to the music or band whatsoever. Jason stated in a recent interview that the cover represented the working title of the seventh studio album, before Jason decided nobody would be able to buy an album entitled Huh? So he’s using the ‘Huh?’ as an iconic image for the seventh album. This album has been in the works since 2008’s ‘Songs In A&E’, with Jason revealing a more poppy sound based around the band playing ‘Ladies and Gentleman We Are Floating in Space’ in full.

‘Huh? (Intro)’ opens the album with sweet string arrangements and delicate percussion and instrumentation. I can hear a wailing singing saw and several shimmers of triangles. It leads into the threatening ‘Hey Jane’. Having already reviewed and heard this track, it doesn’t come as a surprise how fantastic it sounds. This track is the real deal, this is the sound Spiritualized ‘used’ to have, but there’s no point talking about the past, this is the Spiritualized of the present and it’s booming. The guitar riff is excellent and plays wonders with the background swooshes’ which sound like support vocals mixed with a guitar note here and there. Jason Pierce sings with fury as his clear vocal screams strong with passion and a uniqueness even the abstract musicians fail to represent. It’s delusional and it’s a perfect example of dynamics, repetition and advanced song structure.  We hit a wall on the third minute, when the guitars screech and the drumming capitalizes on the noise with messy, but intended smashing on instruments. The end product is five minutes of crisp musicianship. The guitar riff returns with the bass at the helm. A striking guitar riff enters with the support vocal on the left side which is magnified by the standard drum beat. I must note the crisp sound of the electric guitar here, people have been giving this album a little bit of stick for the mixing, but on this track everything seems to work. Jason Pierce has a history of compact sound and he’s put his skills to the test mixing this album, it’s a hard step to overcome, but it’s his step. The track ends with the different melody which is ecliptic and uplifting. I can’t even imagine this track without its superior second section which retreats the band back to their level of advanced techniques.

One of the differences is Jason’s vocal style. Many of these tracks feature very clear and crisp vocals which have little effects and can sound light on the ear in a bad way. It’s hard hitting and decisive, but doesn’t have that L&GWAFIS vibe. ‘Little Girl’ has nice support vocals by the backing gospel-esque intended singers. The instrumentation sounds like a mix between Richard Ashcroft and those 2006 singer-songwriters who have their music played in BHS and Marks & Spencer’s. The verses are lovely with the string arrangements and light percussion, but the louder chorus doesn’t sit well with me. It’s coming down to the sound, it’s far too crisp and in your face rather than relaxed and smooth.  The percussion becomes a nuisance after a while and it’s an unnecessary inclusion. This isn’t mediocre material, but its sounding rushed and, I hate to say it... Mainstream

‘Get What You Deserve’ has that two chord synthesizer introduction Spiritualized/Spacemen 3 fans know and love. It’s a fantastic sound and gives Pierce the opportunity to take the track forward which he does perfectly. His vocal sounds aged and hits like a blunt knife. The effects have been carefully applied to coincide with the shoegaze two chord riff. The drumming is obscured by the severe guitars and sheer power of Pierce’s voice. Eventually a heavy bass dominates the track, Pierce then repeats the track title with energy as the track straightens up and becomes one ball of noise as expected with guitar drones and orchestral pieces of sound. The distortion weakens as the track closes with the heavy orchestral instrumentation. The following track is one of the sweetest tracks I’ve ever heard. I listened to this live in October and I thought how this would sound on record, it’s exactly how I imagined it. The string introduction is enigmatic and has a lustrous melody with significant bass. This is a fantastic written track about love and heartbreak, what love really is and a message between Mother and Son. Typical Motherly sayings are used to give Jason the message of purity and it shows. This is a bright, shiny track with a melancholy instrumental and an exciting vocal. The lyrics truly are among the best of 2012 so far, “It’s too late, I’ve made up my mind. Love always shows when there’s eyes that can blind.” It closes with the brilliant string arrangements and clear piano work which is obscured by the heartfelt vocal.

The same two chord progression is used on the following track ‘Headin’ for the Top Now’. This track is long-winded, sitting above the eight minute mark with the same melody throughout. It’s a little repetitive; however it shoes great signs of musicianship with the several guitars and keyboards which ring through the centre of the track. It’s very squeaky with the loud distortion and Jason has his vocal cut down by the severe drumming and electric guitar sounds. The final two minutes are by far the best, with the childlike vocal and melodramatic lyrics which ring around for several seconds as the guitars thunder on into the darkness with no real aim or desire of achieving anything other than adding to the noise. ‘Freedom’ has a darker feel; it’s much more relaxed and presentable than the previous track. The sweetness shines through, as does the religious aspects and life threatening lyrics based around Jason’s pneumonia incident several years ago. The lyrical theme is outstanding and the united vocal sounds fresh and very clear. I wouldn’t go as far to call this track or any of the previous few ‘poppy’, but they’re by far the most assessable and interesting Spiritualized tracks post-1997.

‘I Am What I Am’ has a striking melody which reminds me of the early 90’s Spiritualized material.  I see this track as a sort of introduction to the final three tracks, because this track doesn’t seem to have much energy and characteristics to remember it by. It’s a stunner of a track with fantastic instrumentation; it just doesn’t seem to enlighten me as much as the other tracks. The support vocals stand out, as does the bass riff. I can’t seem to pin this track, it does however lead nicely into the following track ‘Mary’. Seeing as my girlfriend is called Mary, this song was interesting to hear when they played it live back in 2011. The lyrics are outstanding and again focus on the branch of love. The organ is magnificent and strikes a chord with myself, as is the funky bass riff. The light drumming is respectful but I wanted to heat a dramatic beat with an energetic guitar riff which booms loud, instead (with respect) it has a funk based guitar riff with some slight wah wah effects and minimal reverb and distortion to create a crisp sound which focuses on Jason’s vocals and the organ sound. The track builds up and erupts with fierce brass instrumentation and string work. Jason screams ‘Mary’ loud and in full force, whilst the instrumental doesn’t gain in tempo, but erupts in volume as the track fades away.

The Icelandic-esque ‘Life Is a Problem’, has delicate instrumentation and features the use of a singing saw once again. The lyrics are fantastic and focus on religious themes and direct messages from the all mighty to the human life form, in this case Jason. He uses Jesus as the answer to his problems and the missing piece in his life. It’s a tremendous track and it sounds special, it is a special track written and performed by a special man. It’s simply beautiful, “Jesus please be my aeroplane, fly me to heaven and never again will I be weak, will, stoned or get high, Jesus please greet me the day that I die.” This is my favourite lyric on the album from my favourite track on the album mainly due to the fabulous lyrical theme amongst the melancholy and utterly amazing instrumentation. There is no electric guitar or drumming, it’s just clear orchestral, vocal and heavy bass to keep it flowing. ‘So Long You Pretty Thing’ is used to close the album, It’s yet another ‘Jesus’ track. Apparently, Jason isn’t religious at all; he just uses the theme of religion as a lyrical representation by questioning the great, looking for the answers in the process. The outcome sounds like Christian rock, just with melancholy and gospel. This track is again, fantastic. The back half of this album really makes up for the daunting first half. The melodic textures and song structures stand strong with uplifting instrumentation and climatic endings. So Long You Pretty Thing just has that extra urge to go all the way, which is what I love about Spiritualized. The track fades out, but this track will not be forgotten. It’s the ultimate end to the bands seventh studio album.

This album is a perfect example of a circular album, where the album begins with a melody which is repeated and heard throughout the album, featuring the beginning, middle and ending before the finale of melodic material mixed with climatic instrumentation. Hey Jane is the clear single and what a single it is. Too Late and Freedom have the peaceful orchestration and optimistic lyrics and feature terrific song structure and a melancholy feel with the gospel backing vocals. The final three tracks show great passion and written themes which are unseen in modern commercial music. This album has everything the average Spiritualized fan is looking for, it’s just partly lacking on the production side. It’s ultimately simplistic and sparse, with the use of many musicians adding to the force of Jason Pierce. You’ll be able to hear bits of The Velvet Underground, 90’s shoegaze acts and 2000’s indie rock artists. It’s a mix of genres from a mix of eras and it shines a bright light on the dim music industry of ‘pop’. Realistically, this album is as much pop as the latest Tom Waits release, it may have some verse/chorus/verse structures, but so did Spacemen 3… This is Spiritualized playing Spiritualized; I’ll leave it at that.
~Eddie

8.3

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