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Songs In A&E Luke Turner , May 16th, 2008 00:00

Spiritualized - Songs In A&E

Spiritualized reached their commercial zenith a decade ago, when a nation wearying of Britpop and knocked sideways by the insane reaction to the death of Princess Diana fell for the very '90s charms of three guitar acts. The Verve, with Urban Hymns, soundtracked the aspirations and frustrations of Mondeo Man, while Radiohead's OK Computer was the angry, self-righteous musical accompaniment to No Logo angst. Spiritualized, whose Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space was packaged to look like a box of medication, existed in a strange parallel to the Prozac generation and a culture awash with the mumbo-jumbo of self-help books. Not that this was " then " necessarily a negative, for that album channelled the insanity of Spacemen 3 and earlier Spiritualized to summon a hitherto unrealised tenderness and clarity.

Ten years later, the press pack that accompanies Songs In A&E relates Jason Pierce's battle with double pneumonia back in 2005. The near-death experiences, the gospel choirs and the discovery of a talismanic guitar (a 1929 vintage Gibson) could lead a cynic to impute Messianic delusions. Unfortunately, Songs In A&E falls short of divine inspiration.

First impressions are terrible, as all the clunking lyricism leaps out from behind a bush, holds out dirty, shaking hands and asks for 50p. Later, though, you come to appreciate that some of the old Spiritualized magic is at play in the 'harmony' tracks left over from Pierce's soundtrack work with Harmony Korine, which explore more delicate, multi-instrumental textures and, tellingly, are lyric-free.

A cursory glance will reveal that no less than three song titles feature the word "fire". Delving deeper, it gets worse. "I gotta fire inside my soul"; "I've got a little tear in my soul"; "hurricane inside my veins", "there's an old flame still burns in my heart" " all are delivered in a pained, insipid croak. This is one of the most lyrically moribund, repetitive albums you'll encounter this year. When it comes to the smack/love/God equation, Pierce is a monomaniac, and the result is a soundtrack to the joyless, dribbling mysticism of the drug-frazzled. "It's so undignified, I've been here a long time," Pierce sings on the otherwise excellent, itchy-palmed skitter 'Yeah Yeah'. Well, you said it.

Although there are some brilliant arrangements here (Pierce has, from Spacemen 3 days on, been a man adept at weaving simple threads into a sumptuous whole), the pudding is ultimately over-egged, 'Death Take Your Fiddle' being a case in point. The rasping respirator breaths could have been used to brilliant effect, leading the track on a gurney to the operating theatre. Instead, they feel laboured and crass.

Pierce's contemporary and pal Nick Cave exorcises addiction, the question of faith and the darkness of the creative spirit via fantastical characters and music against the snapping demons. It's telling that Cave's weakest moments of recent years have been when he took the Pierce approach and roped in gospel singers or just moped, endlessly.

Why, then, is Jason Pierce still held in such high regard? Do his listeners seek a vicarious narcotic thrill? Do his blandishments on love form themselves, silently, on the lips of his audience as they spend another joyless night next to their disinterested partners? Is the post-dogmatic cod spiritualism the only thing that a Godless generation can muster to lift their cynical souls? Songs In A&E (like Pierce's Acoustic Mainlines project) resembles the work of a happy-clappy evangelical band: it's big on emotion, but you're left wishing for a sermon with a bit of substance. Instead all that’s here is cotton-wool comfort and the feeling that, really, it's about time Jason Pierce ceased flogging this dying Horse.