Venturing out of his chemo-induced stupor, bleary-eyed Jason Pierce looked upon the world and said “huh,” and then made an album about it.
That album, Sweet Heart Sweet Light by his band Spiritualized, is an aptly-titled one – the new release represents an intersection between dreamy, saccharine pop and the synth-laden overtones of space rock withvarying degrees of success.
Fans of the group may be surprised to find that the songs have more of a poppy edge than Pierce’s previous efforts. Low-tempo ballads such as “Too Late” and “Freedom” sound ripped from an overproduced Britpop or easy listening record circa the late ‘60s, with clichéd lyrics (“Don’t play with fire and you’ll never get burned/don’t touch the flame and you’ll never find out) and sanguine pianos to boot.
When taken with the more adventurous tracks such as the downright funky “Headin’ for the Top Now” and the spacey anthem “I Am What I Am,” however, the sentimentality of these ballads feels almost self-parodying in their straight-faced declarations of lost love and prayers for an early death. While a little bit of melodrama is definitely permitted – after all, Pierce was undergoing chemotherapy for a degenerative liver disease during the album’s production period – here, it seems a bit much, lush orchestrations and all.
The sound of the album itself is difficult to characterize, as it randomly floats between the aforementioned dream pop and synth-led chaos. The album’s opener “Hey Jane” starts off like a long-forgotten Beach Boys b-side before careening into Pierce’s trademark sonic chaos without any warning. It’s a stark contrast, and if one is really into both genres, it may work quite well, but those not familiar with Spiritualized’s previous albums might be a tad bit confused by such a sudden change, especially considering that it shifts back into Beach Boys mode within a minute of going into Spaceland.
Speaking of Spaceland, the album doesn’t seem to veer into the hallowed halls of their previous work enough in this record, which surprises me. Too often I found myself wondering when the actual meat of a song would kick in, only to find that the only thing the song had to offer
was well-done dream pop, trite abstractions and all.
Despite his new devotion to poppier sounds, it seems Pierce didn’t get the memo about proper pop song length - almost every song on the album above the five minute mark seems at least two minutes too long. To put it bluntly, there’s simply not enough going on to justify a 9-minute runtime for songs like “Headin’ For the Top” and “Hey Jane.”
That all being said, Sweet Heart Sweet Light is definitely a thing of beauty, and while it may not say anything new about sex, drugs, or rock and roll, it seems perfectly happy not doing so, and it’s nigh-impossible to resist its charms.
— Contact Steven Wright.