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

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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