Songs In A & E

They say that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Still, Dave Gahan died for two minutes and has yet to produce anything more than gothy nonsense, while Duff McKagan’s pancreas exploded and he ended up in Velvet Bloody Revolver. Almost dying is no guarantee of beautiful music. What ‘they’ should tell you is that you have to work for it. When Jason Pierce came out of a touch-and-go spell in intensive care in 2005, his head was full of ideas about the peace of near-death and the sounds of the ward. And yet, returning to a previously written set of songs, he struggled to both reconnect to them and do justice to his new vision. But he rolled up his sleeves and wrote one of his most gorgeous albums yet.

Perhaps the most affecting track is the elegiac ‘Sitting On Fire’, which switches between heavy-hearted, downbeat strumming and mournful strings, Pierce intoning in a low, broken voice, “So hard to fight when you’re losing/And I got a little tear in my soul”, before assuring “set me free/I do believe” and being swept up in a reprieve of shining strings. We’re dragged from that exalted plain, though, by ‘You Lie You Cheat’, a grinding, vengeful blues which snarls in with a distorted squall of angry guitar, Pierce howling “There ain’t nothing more to say… gonna cut you deep and dig your grave”.Then it’s back to soft warmth for ‘Baby I’m Just A Fool’, familiar from last year’s mind-meltingly beautiful Acoustic Mainline shows. Its gentle, almost Americana sound moves from bare strums and tambourines to a dizzying symphonic overload that echoes the ending of ‘A Day In The Life’. It’s an album like a hospital-bed delirium, shape-shifting between the safety and comfort of white sheets and the sweaty panic of brain-heated nightmares.

The standout is ‘Soul On Fire’, Pierce’s most unashamedly uplifting and universal song since ‘Stop Your Crying’. Rather than the bewildering, bedazzling gospel onslaughts of the Acoustic Mainline, it rediscovers the power of a simple beautiful song. Not many could pull off the lines “I got two little arms to hold on tight/And I want to take you higher”; Pierce makes it sound like the most profound thing you’ve ever heard.

In sick times, with extreme politics on the rise and a fright-wigged bad Tory joke in charge of London, this is an album you can retreat to for succour. Definitely in

a stable condition.

Emily Mackay