Spiritualized – Amazing Grace ® (Sanctuary Records)
The greatest art is born through conflict. The conflicts of Jason Pierce are well documented through the writings of others as well as his own—listen to the lyrics on his 2001 masterpiece Let it Come Down and you can’t help but surrender to the gravity of lines like “If Jesus is the straight path that saves / Then I’m condemned to live my whole life on the curve / On the cross roads with the devil / I’ll dwell and I’ll count my years.” The man has, for years, struggled with drugs and with the burden of God—knowing that his way isn’t the right way, yet constantly falling into the same traps, taking the same pills or smoking the same bags. Let it Come Down was a remarkable album not only in its lyrics, but also its performances—Pierce’s inflection and timbre lent the songs the vulnerability that the words could only half-approach. Also enlisted was a gospel choir and orchestra, some of the songs turning into hymns—the explosive chorus of “Stop Your Crying,” for example—which really set the tone for the album. It was a change for Pierce, who with his earlier work in Spiritualized and also its predecessor Spacemen 3, specialized in a spacey, acid-rock/jazz sound—almost a victory by the drugs in the battle for Pierce’s mind.
Amazing Grace has been circulating for months on the internet and has just recently been officially released, and a few dissimilarities are noticeable immediately—the songs are much shorter, the choir mostly removed—inspiration enough for the NME, those fucking idiots, to claim that Spiritualized had recorded a “garage album,” but Amazing Grace is nothing like a faux-revival. This record is raw and pained, biting and brilliant. If Let it Come Down was a coming to grips with his problems, Amazing Grace is one final fight—the inspiration of new parenthood awaking Pierce to new realizations—to get his shit straight and his head up.
Thematically, nothing has changed—evidenced by song titles like “Lay it Down Slow,” “Lord Let it Rain on Me,” and “The Power and the Glory.” The lyrics still reflect the same struggles, yet things seem like they’re starting to turn around. “Hold On” is particularly inspiring, words like “Death cannot part us / If life already has / Hold on to those you hold dear.” You can’t help but wonder whether or not Pierce is advising us based on past experiences.
Musically, there is a slight return to the sound of his earlier work, and also to the soothing melodies and introspective nature of Let it Come Down. The album opens with two tracks, “This Little Life of Mine” and “She Kissed Me (It Felt Like a Hit),” that sound as if Pierce has fostered a new addiction to distortion pedals. Things are cooled off at track three with “Hold On” and “Oh Baby,” and the rest of the album falls somewhere in between.
While nothing tops the epic that Let it Come Down has become, Amazing Grace is perfect for someone perhaps just being introduced to the vast history and discography of Spiritualized/Spacemen 3. It’s the perfect jumping off point, intriguing enough to require further listening, but never getting too deep either.
For those of us already enthralled with the life of Jason Pierce, this isn’t anything profound or new. But it still strikes a chord. Holy shit, does it strike a chord.