Review Summary: Predictably brilliant, at least when it finds it's feet.
When Jason Pierce confirmed that the latest Spiritualized album would be directly influenced by his singular space-rock masterwork Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space
, the sense of anticipation among followers understandably rocketed. That excitement morphed into sheer delirium upon the unveiling of lead single 'Hey Jane,' a sprawling journey which delivered practically everything that anyone had dared hope for and effectively eclipsed any remaining misgivings regarding that direction. There were shameless odes to the past - most notably the iconic drones recycled straight from 'I Think I'm In Love' - but far from being purely derivative it also pushed Pierce and his band into new, adventurous and outright thrilling territory. At eight mind-bending minutes, it was unmistakably Spiritualized, and although a little more upbeat than we've become accustomed to, it made for one hell of a taster.
Unfortunately, not all of the material on [i]Sweet Heart Sweet Light[i] shares the same flavour, and as such 'Hey Jane's' main purpose (aside from acting as a corking opener) is to mop up a surprisingly lacklustre first half. There is a lengthy psychedelic freak-out in the form of 'Heading To The Top,' and numerous other numbers which on paper seem similarly promising, but all too often they seem to lack the inspiration needed to truly lift off. There's nothing remotely bad about this material - indeed some of it, 'Too Late' in particular, is actually rather good - but much of it does come across as a little sluggish, and regrettably falls below the standards that we've come to expect from Pierce and company.
Thankfully, like some of it's predecessors in the Spiritualized canon, this is a record which really comes into it's own further down the line. Whereas the first half is weighed down by dirge and struggles for flight, the closing straight triumphantly soars into orbit, breaking free of previous restraints and shining bright as a direct result. 'Mary' for instance utilises sombre organ and strings to stimulate the type of out-of-body sensation that Pierce has long since mastered, while the closing duo of 'Life Is A Problem' and 'So Long You Pretty Things' tap into the harrowing, depressive emotions which more often than not provide the basis of his most striking work. Cast adrift by his fears of mortality and religious ambiguity, the singer's vocal aches of sadness and desperation, even when joined by 11-year-old daughter Poppy and a full-blown gospel choir during the monumental closer. It's epic, overwhelming and come the end leaves the listener feeling completely exhausted, but it's in these situations that Pierce so often excels, and that's most certainly the case here.
Given that these doleful slabs of spaced-out melancholy have provided the bedrock of many a Spiritualized album in the past, it comes as no surprise that many of Sweet Heart Sweet Light
's finest moments arise from reverting to type. The fact that it takes cue from Pierce's crowning achievement is also no doubt a major contributing factor to this pattern, and in truth it would seem absurd to complain when such passages are executed near enough to perfection. Ok, there's a fairly uninteresting collection of matter in it's mid-section, but the book-ends of this record quite simply display J. Spaceman at his very best, and they alone are reason enough for continued investment.