The advantage of being a one man band is that you never really split up. That means Jason Pierce's Spiritualized seem to just keep on going, continuing to push out albums of similar scale and ambition every few years whilst the world around them changes. Pretty much every other British rock band from the nineties have gon. Whilst the specific sound may shift from one release to the next - noisier here, more drone there, a bit of gospel on this one and country on that - you always know that a Spiritualized record will be a slightly schizophrenic event.
As the only member of Spiritualized to have remained consistent across the years it is clear that these songs are a window into Pierce's head. I tend to avoid reading reviews of albums I am in the process of reviewing but accidentally stumbled across the Guardian's review of Sweet Heart Sweet Light by Kitty Empire. If you take a look you will see the album doesn't fare too well, the primary criticism being something akin to ”Oh not you again, more of this?!"
I can't help but wonder if Kitty Empire just doesn't like Spiritualized, so much of her criticism being levelled at elements that describe exactly what many fans of the band will like. Obviously reviewing music is a personal thing - you can't separate personal enjoyment from professional opinion but reviewing music by bands you either love or hate is never easy.
As for me, I'm a bit mixed on Spiritualized. As with virtually everyone else I somewhat adored Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space - it is the kind of record that takes years rather than weeks to unravel. The albums that followed that one seemed to struggle though, lacking the consistency, the balls and the big ideas of Ladies and Gentlemen.
Sweet Heart Sweet Light convincingly addresses those concerns. This feels like a proper album where previous albums have felt like more of a collection of moments - there is a greater pacing and vision at work. It also has some typically majestic moments - the slight return on 'Hey Jane' is suitably insistent, climatic and dizzying, the chorus at end of 'Headin' For The Top Now' whirling the cumulative chaos around into a little present with a bow on top and the closing 'So Long You Pretty Thing' (co-written with Pierce's daughter Poppy) so charming it is hard to resist.
But for all the big moments this album feels more quietly confident than any other. With the vocals given a more prominent position and several more laid back pieces, see the ballad-like 'Too Late' and 'Freedom', this sounds like Pierce growing into himself. It is here where Kitty and I disagree - Sweet Heart Sweet Light is brilliant precisely because it is Pierce revealing more himself. Yes, it is more accessible and lacks the 'derangement' of earlier work, but that is precisely what makes it a revelation.
Preparing for Sweet Heart Sweet Light, Pierce was apparently inspired by the live performances of the entire Ladies and Gentlemen album, and you can hear that in the comfort he allows himself here. Having stopped trying so hard J Spaceman has made one of the best albums of his career.