Between moaning about his recurring drug habits and near-fatal pneumonia and being, you know, kind of lonely, Jason Pierce’s output since his 1997 masterpiece, Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space has been scattershot at best.
So it’s a relief to find him both focused and musically agile on Sweet Heart, Sweet Light, his first record in five years under his Spiritualized moniker.
Pierce has been playing hazy, punk-laced psychedelia for the better part of three decades now, first as part of the Spaceman 3 and then on his own in Spiritualized. He’s tweaked his formula over the years — leaning more heavily on distorted guitar rave-ups, pulling in horn sections and backing choirs — but never straying far from his bread and butter.
Sweet Heart, Sweet Light doesn’t change that, but it does find him sounding comfortable in his skin as an aging rocker with his share of problems. Trouble — as usual — is never far away, whether through the hellbent protagonist of “Hey Jane,” the vindictive “Get What You Deserve” or the self-loathing detailed in the weary “Little Girl” and “Mary.”
After 12 years of mucking about with R&B/gospel influences, he’s finally learned how to pair those with his Sex Pistols-light guitar rock. “Hey Jane” is 9 minutes of hazy, frightening perfection with a redemptive ending chorus of the album’s title. “Too Late” reaches skyward as he declares his willingness to have his heart broken.
And though Pierce still can’t seem to resist the overblown — the 6-minute, loud-louder repetition of “Get What You Deserve” and the 8-minute “Headin’ for the Top Now” are interchangeable with a number of other similar-sounding Spiritualized tracks — when he scales back, he stuns.
The Dr. John co-written “I Am What I Am” marks soulful new ground, with a catchy chorus. “Life is a Problem” and “Freedom” are whisper-quiet in contrast to the rest of the album, with a whiff of country rock tossed in.
Sweet Heart, Sweet Light proves again that the power of Pierce’s barebones songwriting, often obscurred by layers of noise or stretched to the breaking point, is his greatest strength. It’s a comfort to hear him realize that, too.