Spiritualized transcends again | WBEZ
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Jim DeRogatis

Spiritualized transcends again

For three decades, Jason Pierce simultaneously has been one of rock’s most notorious yet most productive addictive personalities.
Pierce in a 2008 performance. (Flickr/Eyton Z)
After his early days wandering through the opium haze of Spacemen 3, he launched a phenomenal second act by looking toward the heavens from the bottom of a deep, dark hole of drug abuse, merging the Velvet Underground’s droning minimalism with a newfound fondness for gospel on Spiritualized’s 1992 debut, Lazer Guided Melodies. Ande matched that peak again, mining the misery of failed romance, with the 1997 album Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space.
The other four entries in the band’s discography certainly have their high points (pardon the pun). But Pierce’s pain just wasn’t epic enough, or there were too many other pleasant distractions from his obsessions with music and drugs, to quite equal his two masterpieces. With the new Sweet Heart Sweet Light, however, he finally has done it again, though thankfully, he’s in a much healthier and dare we say more mature place after a life-threatening battle with degenerative liver disease and six months of chemotherapy.

Picking up where Lazer Guided Melodies left off—which is to say, in church—Sweet Heart Sweet Light features plenty of talk about Jesus and Mary in the lyrics, though never in a preachy way. More than any specific vision of God, one gets the sense that Pierce’s higher power really is rock ’n’ roll, both in the way he attempts to reconnect with his own musical past (the album was recorded in the midst of select performances duplicating Lazer Guided Melodies in its grand wall-of-sound entirety onstage, and he’s talked a lot about the effort he to up the wattage on all of his melodies) as well as with all of the music that’s he loved throughout his life, from the nod to “Sweet Jane” and pretty much all of the Velvets’ canon in the epic “Hey Jane” to the Motown bass lick in “I Am What I Am,” and from the “Dead Flowers”/Rolling Stones-do-country lilt of “Freedom” to the —no kidding—snippet of “Mary Had A Little Lamb” at the end of “Headin’ for the Top Now.”

“Life is a problem,” Pierce sings at one point, and such is the suppressed pain and world-weariness evident in his voice that you cannot doubt he believes that’s true. But with survival has come the ability to place the problems of existence in their proper place, and to express an optimism that all of us can emerge on the other side. “Living my life on a prayer now/Got no right to be here… Freedom is yours if you want it,” he sings. That sentiment permeates these 11 brilliant tracks, and for the first time, you wind up feeling as encouraged by a Spiritualized album as you are dazzled and disoriented by the swirling psychedelic symphonies.

Spiritualized, Sweet Heart Sweet Light (Fat Possum)

Rating on the four-star scale: Four stars.

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