Within the first measures of Spiritualized’s eighth album, head Spaceman Jason Pierce continues his journey away from the minimalist leanings that he’s examined for the last pair of records, and back to the orchestrated grandeur of his revered back catalog.
While all of that may sound like a reprise of his past--which it most definitely is--what’s completely unexpected is the perfect balance that Pierce and company find between the grand stage and two-bedroom apartment. The one where the second bedroom houses all of the pawnshop gear and magnetic tape instead of a rent-contributing roommate.
A Theremin enters into the mix about thirty seconds into Sweet Heart Sweet Light, signaling that after nearly ten years of stripping down the mix, Pierce seems like fashioning up something big for this release. By the end of the record, even the traces of a musical saw seem perfectly fitting and admirably well thought out.
It’s not only one of the best albums you’ll hear all year, it ranks as one of the best in Pierce’s already impressive catalog. Entering his third decade in rock music, Pierce has packed Sweet Heart Sweet Light with beautifully simple arrangements with a sharper bite to his lyrics, some that see a somewhat compelling return to the misery that his distinctive monotone voice can wrap itself around so organically.
By the end of “Hey Jane,” the first song on the eleven track release, the band has already delivered a late career utter masterpiece of a song, complete with an inspired “Hey Jude” coda that gives the album its title.
He’s lifting a bit from his Spacemen 3 past on “Get What You Deserve,” but then, about four minutes into the track, the stereo begins to separate into a wider channel, leaving the main vocal track barking up the middle. By the fifth minute, everything is overcome with guitar distortion and vintage effect pedals while beautiful strings surround the outer ear.
By the end of the song, you’ve forgotten all about the clever allusions to the Spaceman’s past and begin caring about what is in store for us next in his future.
Quite simply, it’s a perfect blend of Pierce’s roots and the unbridled ambition of his revered late 90’s period.
When you get to “I Am What I Am,” with its Sunday go to meetin’ gospel chorus bouncing over Pierce’s deadpanned delivery, it becomes clear that there really isn’t a dud to be found on Sweet Heart Sweet Light. There’s just plenty of additional evidence what some of us have considered for some time now: that Jason Pierce is one the genre’s most vital contributors and to be able to continue to release records like this-clearly equipped for greatness and longevity-then we owe it to him to acknowledge how sweet it is to still have him around.
I found some socks in my drawer that I didn’t recognize.
With clear mind, I knew that they weren’t mine. I also determined that they weren’t my wife’s that happened to find their way into my sock drawer. They looked familiar, but they weren’t her style. What would she need in a pair of argyle socks when she didn’t even own a pair of khakis?
I think of socks as a utilitarian article of clothing, something that should relatively match in color the other aspects of the wardrobe, while not distracting from the ensemble through pattern or design.
So, whose fucking socks are these?
I’m happily married now, but there was a time that I wasn’t happily married, albeit to someone different. I know that every divorce is different, but those who have experienced it understand its toll. And part of that is your mind’s ability to block out moments of time in your life while still remembering that there are big gaps in your mind that are still accessible.
It’s unfair to deny yourself your own history, but it’s a defense mechanism that prevents you from ultimately remembering the outcome of that part of your past: the divorce. With a little bit more focus, I remembered how these curious pair of socks was left behind in a bedroom set that I moved with me after the divorce was final. I didn’t think about it at the time, I just threw them in a laundry basket while I removed the shelves from the highboy to make carrying that monstrosity much easier.
The walnut bedroom set was that of my grandmother, so I dutifully wrote it down on my list of things that I felt I was entitled to when we began the process of identifying property ownership. I also put down the musical instruments (except the longhorn bass I bought for her and the SWR amplifier), the memorabilia from various rock shows, my library desk and chair, and, of course, the entire remnants of our music collection. It was easier to identify “her” titles, but I found a bit of resistance when she tried to claim that those records that she actually purchased for me were actually hers since she paid for them.
I successfully pointed out the lunacy of such a claim, secretly worrying that she would be walking away with my rare copy of Captain Beefheart’s Lick My Decals Off, Baby–a record she most assuredly wouldn’t appreciate.
Thankfully, we compromised on all of this quickly. I was in no mood to communicate with her, let alone barter, and I understood how utterly ridiculous this would all look from the outside.
We would be arguing over records.
Months later, when the collection was secured and transported to my new home, I took time in making sure everything was in its right place. I alphabetized the collection, taking mental inventories of the various artists and putting their catalog in chronological order.
In some instances, it’s harder to do this, particularly if the artist was short-lived, but their posthumous catalog kept growing.
I found this out when getting to the Spacemen 3 section.
Spacemen 3 weren’t together all that long, releasing around a half-dozen records during their actual existence while watching their offerings increase after they broke up, thanks to the introduction of live recordings, demos, and unreleased material.
Where was my copy of Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To?
I went through every title in my entire collection again to see if I had misfiled it. All of this must sound incredibly compulsive, but trust me, it is so much easier to find if you suddenly have an urge to hear the demo version of “Feel So Good” instead of the proper studio version. It’s right there, no waiting, no searching.
Several months later, my newly christened ex-wife called me in my new home one evening. I would typically let calls like these go directly to voice mail after discovering that we really didn’t need to communicate, except through lawyers, and that any attempt at rational conversation would just escalate into her screaming at me.
For some reason, I answered the call.
She was moving out of our old house, and that meant we’d need to sell it.
“I found an old Spacemen 3 record in the computer room,” she told me.
“I’ve been looking for that!” my voice blurted with obvious relief. “Can you send it to me?”
It was obvious to her how important this record must have been to me and this clearly gave her some additional power.
“It’s mine!” she shot back.
My head filled with rage as I understood completely what she was doing. Nonetheless, I felt compelled to quiz her on the history of Spacemen 3 (“What’s Sonic Boom’s real name?!”) and point out that she had no clue to who they were before meeting me.
“But I bought it for you,” she fired back, “and now I’m keeping it because I paid for it.”
There were miles between us during this phone call, but I could see her smile with delight as if she were right in front of me. She had me. She began to suggest that I had obtained all of the items I was entitled to. There would be no discussion of additional possessions that I failed to acquire when I moved out.
I could hear her laughing as I sputtered out excuses at how this had turned into a very immature dispute. “What could you possibly want from the 1985 demo sessions by the Spacemen 3?” I desperately asked.
“I’m fucking with you!” she offered after a good chuckle. “I’ll put them in the mail on Monday.”
Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To sits next to the other titles in my Spacemen 3 collection today, a rare title where the incidents around the record are more notable than the music contained within it. It may not be the case for other listeners, but for me, the act of possessing it far outweighs the performance. I’d heard these songs before, and in most cases, much better versions. But if you’re a completist, that’s beside the point.
The original intent of the record was to fill in the gaps, but it turned into a verifiable battle of the sexes. A footnote to a failed marriage as recalled by a stray pair of argyle socks found in my drawer this morning.
Your girlfriend might hate this album. It’s much more for the record collector set than their long suffering and ever patient better halves who delighted in the dance pop of the band’s last effort. More Odessey and Oracle than Oracular Spectacular, the band wasn’t kidding when they said there’d be no “Time to Pretend” or “Kids” this time around. That’s not to say it’s not good, it just means it’ll be good for a smaller number of people and those people are the dorks who actually got that Zombies reference.
The band maintains it’s sense of pop, but this time instead of radio-friendly (what does that even mean anymore?) nuggets of unforgettable melodies and anthemic calls to “fuck with the stars” and “have some fun,” they draw from the roots of conceptual art pop of the mid- to late-1960s. And why not? Just like their forefathers, MGMT was thrust into the void of (indie) rock fame in the wake of a couple of really, really catchy tunes. They got pigeon-holed and expectations mounted for their follow-up. Druggies everywhere rejoiced when it was announced that the dude from Spaceman 3 would be involved only to have those same dreams dashed when we all found out it wasn’t Jason Pierce.