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Sweet Heart Sweet Light Harry Sword , April 16th, 2012 07:36

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Spiritualized are a band that polarise opinion like few others: depending on the ear of the beholder, they produce either music of quasi-mystical and transcendent beauty – a perennially strung out nirvana of rising epiphany - or a tiresome dirge of incalculable dullness, inflected with Jason Pierce's rampant lyrical egoism. I'm yet to meet anyone who considers them merely 'alright'.

Their legend rests largely on one good album, and various rousing live shows that have followed it down the years. But although Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space acted as a welcome subterfuge to the most leaden excesses of Britpop - marrying gospel, rock & roll and sumptuous orchestral arrangement to slickly hypnotic effect – things slipped thereafter. Indeed the last Spiritualized record, 2008's Songs In A & E, was a hoary mess: pompous and irritating in equal measure. Unfortunately, this record carries on in a similar vein.

The LP begins with single 'Hey Jane', a track that sounds rather like an outtake from a 'Peter' Doherty solo LP – all manicured wooze, loaded with outrageous cliche. "Hey Jane, where you going today? You lit a fire and you fanned the flames! They say you're out of control. I say you're on a roll!" The problem here is not just the wordplay – lyrics that wouldn't pass muster on a Kula Shaker record – its the ashen backing, cold and affected narco 'rawk'.

'Little Girl' opens with the salvo "sometimes I wish that I was dead. 'Cos only the living, can feel the pain". Its morose lyrical ambience is off set by a winsome string / jangling guitar combination that sounds like Cast. There is a strong late 90s pop sensibility at play elsewhere, too. 'Get What You Deserve' smacks of something that Ian Broudie of the Lightning Seeds would come out with, were he asked to write a song in the style of George Harrison.

Both 'Heading For The Top Now' and 'I Am What I Am', meanwhile, sound like clapped-out pastiche, all rising string drones and quasi-mystical bobbins. The latter is particularly tiresome, as Pierce intones that he is, amongst other things, the "song that writes the man, the man that don't wait for time, the faith that gets your soul, the road that drives the car." Well, here lies the rub. Not only does Sweet Heart Sweet Light hit all patented Spiritualized thematic buttons squarely between the eyes – religion, drugs, sickness and redemption – it is also a record that covers everything with a Wyoming sized scoop of full-fat icky sentiment. The difficult line between brave soul bearing frankness and trite naive simplicity has not been successfully navigated.

'Life Is A Problem' and 'So Long You Pretty Things' both make for cases in point. Self-centred and indulgent hymns to the perennially battered soul that has found redemption at the end of a long road of excess. Hymns in thrall to the vulgar excesses of morbid and interminable personal introspection. Very hard to take.

This is an LP intent on exploring the struggle for life and love in gratuitously 'holy' terms. But, while religious iconography has long been part and parcel of the Spiritualized experience, it reaches an unpleasant and sinister crescendo on these 11 tracks. And where previous lyrical excesses have often been tempered by a genius for tension building arrangement, the overriding vibe on Sweet Heart Sweet Light is that of bloated self-parody, and gratuitous self-pity.

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Michael White
Apr 16, 2012 11:37am

While I agree with the assessment of this album, is no one fact-checking over there? It's Ian Broudie (not Brody). It's Lightning Seeds (not Lightening).

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Apr 16, 2012 11:43am

In reply to Michael White:

I often find myself wondering the same thing. There are always errors all over The Quietus. It wouldn't really take much effort for somebody to double check two or three reviews a day, would it?

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Apr 16, 2012 11:54am

Bit unfair to say they've only made one great record - Laser Guided Melodies and Pure Phase are pretty special. The rot all started when he stopped working with other people - up until Let It Come Down, Spiritualized were a proper band, all of whom contributed to the sound as much as Jason Pierce, as much as he would try to deny it. He just about got away with the solo indulgence on Let It Come Down, but ever since then the fact that he's not had anyone to say 'why don't you stop writing about how youre 'on fire'? and maybe just use the one orchestra' has been desperately in evidence. It was the same with Spacemen 3 - their best stuff was when they worked together.

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Apr 16, 2012 11:56am

They have three good albums, not one. But yes, you'd be correct in that they have yet to release something worth anything since LAGWAFIS.

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Ag 6702
Apr 16, 2012 1:47pm

In reply to MB:

Painful cliches, self-indulgence and same-old same-old aside, I was hoping to hear a little more about how the music stacks up.

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Apr 16, 2012 2:57pm

In reply to Ag 6702:

from me or the reviewer? it sounds exactly like the last four records - drawn out garage blues with a load of strings on top, interspersed with a few slower ones with even more strings on top. An album where you can predict everything that is going to happen in each song at least a minute before it does.

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Apr 16, 2012 3:26pm

So I take it this reviewer is in the latter camp he identified as the two sides of the Spiritualized opinion coin? Unfortunately, with bands like this, it's hard to get an objective review either way.

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Stavros P. Leibowitz
Apr 16, 2012 3:34pm

As someone who saw Spacemen 3 back in the day and some utterly brilliant gigs from Spiritualized, I've got to say that this album is beyond disappointing. It's musically predictable, lyrically appalling (I mean, really - how many laments to Jesus can even the Son of God put up with?)and who told Jason to mix his weedy vocals up so high? They haven't released anything of substance since the Albert Hall album and that just ain't good enough.

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Gary the Snail
Apr 16, 2012 3:35pm

Pretty clear in which direction the ear of the reviewer is polarised.

well controversially, I've quite enjoyed it on both listens so far - but then I wasn't expecting Arctic Monkeys or Pulp or any other wordy lyrics.... but come on, Cast?!

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Dan B
Apr 16, 2012 3:41pm

"hymns in thrall to the vulgar excesses of morbid and interminable personal introspection" - like nearly dying? I don't like the record either but cut the Manics Marxism, Sword.

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Stavros P. Leibowitz
Apr 16, 2012 4:24pm

In reply to Dan B:

Cut? Sword? Oh very good!

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Apr 16, 2012 5:55pm

In reply to Gary the Snail:

I`m with you ,reads like Harry`s ears were polarized a long time ago,don`t really care thought I like it ,and who ever said this sounds exactly the last 4 albums ,take the potatoes out your ears,your hearings all distorted,

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Apr 16, 2012 8:13pm

I think we have a contender for worst album cover of the year. More like 'Why?'.

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Apr 17, 2012 3:01pm

This review is wrong. Sweet Heart Sweet Light is a brilliant album.

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Apr 17, 2012 4:03pm

I disagree with the review - I quite like this album - but that's ok, people are allowed to have different musical tastes. My larger question is this: do the writers at the Quietus actually like anything? Admittedly I'm rather new to the site, only been reading for about the past 2 months, but a large amount of the articles here seem to have an overwhelmingly pessimistic slant to them. Maybe it's just me...

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Reggie P
Apr 17, 2012 8:38pm

At last someone tells it like it is re Spiritualized! As bad as their music: that picture of Tim Burgess. Looking like a cool dude there, Tim, as ever.

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Apr 18, 2012 12:06am

One listen in and it sounds great. Definitely a huge step up from the marginally flat Songs in A&E. In fact I believe this might be the most rewarding, interesting album they've releases since...well you know. It's lazy to just dismiss their last 3 albums so quickly. They all have great moments but had the misfortune of following a towering masterpiece. Let it Come Down's first half is sensational and Amazing Grace has it's moments. Either way most of the reviews of this are glowing so you (and many of the lazy posters on here) are in the minority.

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Reggie P
Apr 18, 2012 7:24am

In reply to auteur55:

In the minority? That must mean we're bad and wrong then. Actually, you're right. I love Jason Pierce's music. He truly is a musical genius and not just a bleary eyed over rated haircut. He has the best musical influences like the Velvet Underground and The Stooges and Miles Davis so he must be the bestest like Bobby Gillespie is also the bestest. Love Reggie P aged 31 and 3/4.

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May 3, 2012 9:44pm

I loved them in the 90s, and have been less and less interested since Ladies and Gents.
Frankly, this album is pretty poor, although I'm not as bile-soaked as the reviewer. I'm afraid I'll have to disprove the theory and say 'they are alright'.

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Sep 16, 2012 10:05pm

Um, either you are correct or the rest of the world. I sort of think that you might be an idiot because this is obviously a great album

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