Upon hearing 'Sweet Heart Sweet Light' for the first time a couple days back, my initial thoughts were, "Well, this sounds pretty much exactly as I expected it to sound." But by the end of that same listen, I realized, "No, this is the sound Jason Pierce has been striving towards since...well....ever." Or it least since the late 90's. Sure, there are choirs, strings, drug references, God references, etc., all with a slight gospel-y bent to it all. It wouldn't be a Spiritualized album without all that. The band are almost a genre unto themselves, with a sound no other act would dare borrow for fear of coming off as complete rip-off artists. And now that sound has been perfected, imo. This coming from someone who's been slightly burnt-out on this band the past few years, even though I thought their last album, 2008's 'Songs in A & E', was a pretty strong album.
Unlike Spiritualized's previous albums from the past decade, 'Sweet Heart Sweet Light' is packed with the grandiose, epic jams fans came to expect in the 90's, such as the 9-minute lead track (after the short intro) "Hey Jane," an excellent psych rave-up that builds and builds to an ecstasy-filled crescendo that literally caused the clouds to part, the sun to come out, and rainbows to shoot all over the sky during my first listen. OK, that may not have REALLY happened, but it did for me. Just you wait. No pharmaceutical help needed, but it certainly couldn't hurt! "Little Girl," one of the shorter, more straight-forward tracks, yet still filled with horns, strings, female backing vocals, etc., has one of the most infectious choruses I've ever heard, and it's over all too soon, which is not a bad thing, as it never became redundant. And besides, within seconds I was totally absorbed by the next song, 'Get What You Deserve,' a slow-burner with some pretty scary/demented lyrics from Mr. Pierce.
Another longish track at over 8 minutes, "Headin' for the Top Now," basically took me on an epic inner-journey while listening with headphones last night. There is so much going on, that it's nearly impossible to absorb everything at once. You almost have to pick out the melody or instruments you want to follow each time you listen, and just ride it out. The guitar tone, combined with what sounds like a sitar weaving in and out of the main groove, just tickles the brain perfectly, to the point that it was almost too much. Pierce brings it all back down to Earth with two soothing final tracks that are almost lullaby-like, in that they bring the listener back down to earth gently, after the intense journey that the rest of the album was. A perfect end to a nearly perfect album. The only negative I can think of would be that Pierce's vocals are, at times, too upfront in the mix, especially for a listener like me who wants to crank it up and get lost in this album's sonic bliss. At higher volumes the vocals, though good, are...well...piercing (pun not really intended), especially with headphones.
But that minor quibble doesn't detract from the fact that this album represents the culmination of everything Pierce has been building towards for the past 20 years, possibly even since the days of Spacemen 3. It's probably a bit too early to say, but I believe 'Sweet Heart Sweet Light' to be Spiritualized's best album since '97's "Ladies and Gentlemen..." Since that album, they have become a band where I will automatically purchase everything they put out, and I'll listen to it a few times, be happy, then move on. And now I've been rewarded with a mindblowing album that likely won't come out of my rotation for months and months. Amen to THAT I say, Mr. Pierce.