Music Reviews
Sweet Heart Sweet Light

Spiritualized Sweet Heart Sweet Light

(Domino) Rating - 8/10

This may seem like stating the obvious, but Jason Pierce has unquestionably become a teacher of the word of faith. For many of us, it takes a near death experience to see things in a different light, and Pierce’s case isn’t any different – for over the last decade, the drone-rock godfather has gone through a series of health complications that have threatened his career and his life. It hasn’t gotten any easier – he was first hospitalized for five years for suffering a double pneumonia and just recently revealed that he now has a long-term liver disease. And through all this, he was taking the daily pill to gather as much strength to finish his latest release.

The album cover for Sweet Heart Sweet Light features the most overtly apathetic album cover in recent memory – the interjection Huh? is plastered right smack in the center in bold font, as if some scientist from the Joint Working Party for the Discovery of New Elements were showing his new creation to a group of laboratory colleagues. It makes a befuddling first impression, though it doesn’t take long to figure out its purpose: it questions the validity of living through the chemical solution. It perfectly epitomizes the effect of feeling medicated – it numbs the pain at first, then it creates a much-needed dependency, and ultimately reaches the point of feeling nothing at all.

Flipping through every Spiritualized record is very much like wearing a mood ring – they all feature the same over-arching theme, yet each reveal a different emotional state. But the prescription is always the same – the power of music uplifts the human spirit. In his eyes, wallowing in self-pity is rubbish – after a grandiose symphonic orchestra introduces the album’s hour-long flight, Pierce meets his constant savior: rock n’ roll. He instantly goes for the pleasure center with Hey Jane, a crisp, prismic refraction of sounds that is actually composed of three movements – it cranks a guitar raunch at first, decelerates and breaks apart until it reaches full stop, and reverses itself for the return trip; the triumphant finale has Pierce preaching sweet heart/ sweet light/sweet heart/love of my life with an echoing choir to elevate it as far as it can go.

It doesn’t take long for Pierce to revert back to some of his usual devices, with the slight alteration of making them as expansive as possible – Get What You Deserve takes a sonic, hallucinatory detour while an orchestral wall of sound diminishes into what sounds like a ticking time bomb, ending with the bulldozing finale: a patterned-drum and distortion wailing freakout. Too Late follows with a tender ballad that sounds like a counterpart to Song in A & E's Sweet Talk – the bowing of violin strings extends while a faint brass vibrates behind Pierce’s nighttime lullaby: don’t get too deep cause you know you’ll regret/heartache and pain/because that’s what you get.”

Pierce usually works with contradictions, so it’s no surprise that he holds a great deal of flexibility with each undertaking. He promptly veers off course in the free-form noise uproar that is Headin’ to the Top Now, a cacophonous amalgam of abrasive feedback that has him in his angriest, most exuberant behavior; the Jerry Lee Lewis-like plucking of the piano strings also gives it a joyous vitality. There’s also the grimy, hard-edged but nonetheless soulful I Am What I Am, which features a blaring saxophone and the resurgence of Mr. Spacemen himself wailing a series of atonal riffs akin to the nihilistic nature of Sister Ray. He defiantly repeats I am what I am / hear what I am/see what I say/and understand, a laughably bigheaded choice of words that’s poorly wasted on the backdrop of a lustrous gospel choir.

Which brings me to discuss the heated debate that’s been brewing among music journalists around the web: Pierce’s lyrical truisms. I’d be remiss if I simply discarded them as forthright Christian proselytizing or, to put it simply, a series of worn out clichés. Life is a Problem begins with an Eden-like ambience – what follows is a gentle repeated chord that has Pierce sending Jesus an earnest request to care for him. He goes on to associate Him as a series of metaphors – a car, an automobile and a radio signal as if he were singing a children’s church hymn. Many have criticized about it sounding distastefully religiose – an opinion that’s probably swayed by the person’s own level of intolerance on the subject – which actually thwarts what actually is one of Pierce’s purest and most devout moments. It’s also easy to dismiss the fact that Pierce is serving as a father figure for his daughter – whether or not he should exercise that right or turn away from it on a pop record altogether is a whole other issue.

Listening to Sweet Heart Sweet Light makes me think of that great quote by Father Mulcahy in M.A.S.H.: “a faith of convenience is a hollow faith”. But could it be applied to Pierce, a man who pretends to hold a strong conviction yet is morally arrogant in the way he uses religious imagery without any restraint? He’s admitted to being a nonbeliever, yet his intentions appear to be sincere. And then I think about a man who was close to his deathbed, who may have repented when his recovery appeared to be doubtful.  Whether this holds any significance, Pierce cloaks these songs in white with a sort of pious ecstasy. And all this exuberance coming from someone who mostly felt listless, lost and perpetually tired, who now is doing just fine. Now that’s a miraculous feat.