There are glorious moments, but it doesn't always soar
Rather than ‘putting out records’, space-rock’s grand architect Jason Pierce constructs musical monuments; intricately carved monoliths cast from gospel, soul and blues and erected like orchestral Acropolises for the dedicated rock tourist to gawp at. Their basic design might alter slightly with each new construction – a bit more punk for 2003’s ‘Amazing Grace’, a bit more fragile and haunted for 2008’s ‘Songs In A&E’ – but ever since he buried the lazer-guided electronics beneath flutes, flugelhorns and Philharmonics on 2001’s ‘Let It Come Down’, the materials have remained familiar. The heartbreaking spiritual. The frenzied jazz-punk freak-out. The brilliant pop blast like Gabriel’s horn blowing Sirius B apart. The sneaking in of Jesus, Pierce’s own version of Where’s Wally? and the lynchpin of the Spiritualized album drinking game.
Kindly, Pierce signposts the grand stature of his seventh album by bookending it with two eight-minute crackers. ‘Hey Jane’ pretends to be a motorik drone-blues thrash in the vein of ‘On Fire’ and ‘Electricity’, with Pierce throwing accusations of infidelity and violence at the tutular character. After a cacophonous false stop, Jason unleashes a wondrous, quasi-religious elegy of devotion – “[i]Sweet heart, sweet light… love of my life[/i]”.
At the opposite end from this magma-spewing rock’n’roll revelation sits ‘So Long You Pretty Things’. Opening disguised as a cutesy lullaby featuring one of Pierce’s most unintentionally hilarious lines ever – “[i]Take the long way home, past the scary Jesus[/i]”, Pierce warbles – it quickly becomes a banjo ballad akin to a gospel Sufjan Stevens before unleashing an incredible choral pop segment.
But between these stout towers hangs a more hit-and-miss collection than Pierce has offered in some years. On the hit side, ‘Little Girl’ is a charming soul swoop bedecked with trembling violins and strident female backing vocals; ‘Too Late’ is a Disney lullaby reflecting an inexorable love affair, ‘Life Is A Problem’ is a sumptuous rewrite of ‘Oh Lord Won’t You Buy Me A Mercedes Benz’ imploring Jesus (four fingers!) to be Jason’s radio, his aeroplane and, more worryingly, the rifle with which he plans to shoot all sinners. Endearing and lush, these give ‘Sweet Heart, Sweet Light’ a core of, well, sweetness and light in keeping with Pierce’s promise to make the record poppier than previous works.
But it’s the longer, wilder but more melodically repetitive screes that dominate the album, throwbacks to Spacemen 3’s space freakouts that excite sonically but outstay welcomes like a nasal harmonica player. Previously these monotone stretches have been the grist and glory of Spiritualized; here they clunk and drag. The two-chord droner ‘Get What You Want’ delves into intriguing Eastern strings and percussion similar to ‘Revolver’-era Beatles and expands into a consuming atonal wig-out at the end, but generally does too little for too long. ‘Heading For The Top’ is a fantastic broil of brimstone guitar, string and synth, but could do with more than one repeated hook and a nursery rhyme coda to fill its eight minutes; ‘Mary’ is actively dreary.
Add in the unadventurous country and western balladry of ‘Freedom’ and the muddy blues rock of ‘I Am What I Am’ and you have a mid-album slump from a band that’ve never done anything but soar. Which is, admittedly, a little like criticising Nelson’s Column for being mostly granite. This record is, as you’d expect, by turns breathtaking, entrancing, deafening and challenging, and Spiritualized are still the Vatican of bands. But the thing with monuments: you admire their intrinsic magnificence, but you need a damn good reason to go back a seventh time.