Spiritualized

Sweet Heart, Sweet Light

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Considering how literally revitalized Jason Pierce sounded on Songs in A & E and that he wrote much of Sweet Heart, Sweet Light on tour performing Ladies and Gentlemen...We Are Floating in Space in its entirety, it's doubly disappointing that Spiritualized's seventh album feels so contrived so often. While it's unfair to expect a masterpiece every time Pierce steps into the studio, this album often echoes 2003's Amazing Grace, especially because he revisits indulgences like orchestral flourishes and gospel choirs (and throws in a children's choir for good measure), which he finds all too easy to overuse. Indeed, throughout Sweet Heart, Sweet Light, it's distressingly easy for him to slip into shorthand for heartache, redemption, danger, and dark nights of the soul, whether it's the "Wild Horses"-esque ballad "Freedom," the Velvet Underground-channeling "Headin' for the Top Now," or the maudlin ballads "Too Late" and "Life Is a Problem," which sound like bloated nursery rhymes instead of hymns, and play as self-pitying instead of anguished. Even more frustrating are near misses such as "I Am What I Am," which boasts a harrowing free jazz breakdown but has its impact dulled by another superfluous choir, and "Mary," a slow burner with potential that tries too hard and takes too long to reach a depth that isn't there. Sweet Heart, Sweet Light's highlights come early: "Hey Jane" is one of the most transcendent things Pierce has recorded in years, with a bright, poppy melody and a dark undercurrent that rides the instant when life feels especially vibrant because it's in danger. When the song crashes, then rises as a Krautrock-ish drone with the coda "Sweet heart/Sweet light/You're the love of my life" repeating like a mantra, it's more spiritual than a thousand choirs would be at that moment. Meanwhile, "Little Girl"'s soulful pop is as refined as the opening track is exuberant, and nearly as accomplished, and "Get What You Deserve" nails the menacing vibe the album's later songs fail to hit. While Sweet Heart, Sweet Light isn't a disaster, it's just not as gripping as Songs in A & E or Ladies and Gentlemen...We Are Floating in Space.

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