Steve Wilson. On music.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Spiritualized - Sweet Heart Sweet Light (Fat Possum Records)

The drone and rush of Spacemen 3 was dark, dirty fun. Like the Jesus and Mary Chain they brought a dash of demi-monde cool to the synth-pop Eighties. When they broke up, guitarist Jason Pierce initiated a new project called Spiritualized, a band who didn’t reject Spacemen’s ethos, but certainly gave it grander dimensions. 

Pierce has woven strands of Velvet Underground ‘rush and on my run’ thrust, lysergic propulsion (think 13th Floor Elevators, and yes, even Pink Floyd), the epic pop pretensions of Phil Spector, and American gospel sounds throughout Spiritualized’s twenty-year history. The band’s apotheosis, Ladies and Gentleman We Are Floating in Space, a classic statement of Pierce’s vision was released in 1997. Subsequent releases have to varying degrees retreated from or refined that classic. Good records, all of them in my estimation, but nothing stunning 

After 2008’s Songs in A and E, Pierce revisited Ladies and Gentleman, mounting extravagant live productions of the album. Immersed in his own classic and moved by audience response, Pierce determined that any new release from Spiritualized had to meet that standard. With Sweet Heart Sweet Light his mission is accomplished. It embraces Ladies and Gentlemen, but deepens and matures its sensibility. 

Where some of the band’s recordings hid behind a patina of noise and attitude, Sweet Heart is transparently detailed, achieving a clarity of pop production that would flatter halcyon period Beach Boys or the Beatles circa Magical Mystery Tour

With Pierce undergoing chemotherapy as treatment for liver disease, most of the basic tracks for Sweet Heart were cut in his home studio with a core quartet of Pierce, guitarist/bassist Tony Foster, keyboardist Tom Edwards, and drummer Kevin Bales. Pierce then convened sessions in Iceland (for orchestration) and Los Angeles (backing vocals).