Music Review: Spiritualized’s “Sweet Heart Sweet Light”

Spiritualized’s new album Sweet Heart Sweet Light suffers from a fairly uncommon problem today in rock music, which is that it’s suggestive of a good album without really being a good album in itself. The elements are all there: the album is well-produced, it’s ambitious, and it blurs the line between pop and experimental in a way similar to many other great albums. The whole thing has got a nice “classic album” feel to it, and the artist behind it (Jason Pierce, the only constant member of Spiritualized) certainly seems to know what he’s doing, lending the album a professional uniformity that seems to suggest experience in the field of album-making–which is exactly what Pierce has, given that his old psych-rock band Spaceman 3 formed twenty years ago. This is all well and good. An experienced psychedelic rocker, writing simple songs, and dressing them up in some pretty impressively grandiose production? All elements of a great album.

The problem, then, is that Sweet Heart Sweet Light still manages to be egregiously boring. I’m serious about this–it’s a reviewing cliche, but toward the end of seventh track “Freedom,” I very nearly fell asleep. That song, in particular, outlines what’s wrong with this album, which is that, even at its best (“Little Girl,” for me), it’s merely imitative. “Freedom” itself is a slow, waltz-y ballad that sounds like a million other, and better, slow and waltz-y ballads. It sounds like a Flaming Lips song and like a Mercury Rev song and a late-era Velvet Underground song–and boy, does this album love to imitate them–and probably like twenty other bands, eventually emerging on the other side of this battlefield of influences as something dishearteningly faceless.

The thoroughly awesome album cover for Sweet Heart Sweet Light

And that’s just “Freedom,” one fairly short and innocuous track on the album, which runs nearly an hour. This extended duration is thanks in part to two eight-minute tracks called “Hey Jane” and “Headin’ for the Top Now,” one of which is merely okay and one of which is exasperatingly pointless. “Hey Jane,” the first track released from the album, at least has a nice drive to it and a cool music video, even if it once again shamelessly pilfers from the sound of The Velvet Underground. “Headin’ for the Top Now” is just useless; it’s a fake-sounding impression of psychedelic rock, with a bunch of squelchy guitars panning from left to right and Cool Trippy Sound Effects and buzzing keyboards, but without the vital energy that makes a great psychedelic rock track.

All of this is to say that I think Jason Pierce is an extremely talented guy who has wasted all of his potential on making an album that tries desperately to be something (specifically, a big, ambitious psychedelic rock album), rather than just fitting into that archetype naturally. It’s a thin line between inspiration and imitation, and with Sweet Heart Sweet Light, Spiritualized have very clearly crossed from the realm of the former into the latter. I don’t necessarily blame Pierce for trying to make his album sound like some of his old favorites; this has ostensibly been the modus operandi for a lot of great albums recently, from M83’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming to Frankie Rose’s Interstellar. When imitation, however, seeks to be the ends rather than the means of such a project–as it does on this album–the results can be distressingly uninteresting.

–Alex Robertson, Arts Editor


Posted by on April 12, 2012. Filed under Arts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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