Friday, July 4, 2008

Album Review: Spiritualized – Songs in A&E

The penultimate space cowboy, Jason Pierce (AKA J. Spaceman, AKA the one constant member of and driving force behind Spiritualized) has been making achingly glorious noise for some twenty-odd years now. Songs in A&E is Pierce’s first outpouring of new music since being hospitalized in 2005 with a life-threatening illness. Most of the album was written before his hospitalization, but you’d never know it. There is a whisper of death through the whole album, but also joy. It’s pretty much par for the course for a Spiritualized album in that regard, but the reality of Pierce’s near-death experience lends new weight to the album itself.

Interspersed by six harmonies (think of them as interludes), the twelve new Spiritualized songs are beautiful, heartbreaking, and well worth the wait. Pierce cooked up new depths to his trademark lovelorn despair, as well as some exceedingly lovely arrangements. That’s the thing about Jason Pierce, he’s not just the voice of Spiritualized, he’s also the (main) composer (not to mention the producer). He is the man behind the curtain, and you should definitely pay attention to this wizard.

Of particular note on Spiritualized latest space rock opus is a little trio of songs I refer to as the “Fire Trilogy,” otherwise known as “I Gotta Fire,” “Soul on Fire,” and “Sitting on Fire.” The first, “I Gotta Fire,” is frantic, loud, and a bit harried. Which, if you think about it, makes perfect sense. My favorite of the trilogy, “Soul on Fire,” is a lush soundscape full of lovely lyrics like “baby, you set my soul on fire/I got two little arms to hold on tight/and I wanna take it higher,” and “I got a hurricane inside my veins/and I wanna stay forever.” It is quite possibly one of my all-time favorite Spiritualized songs. “Sitting on Fire” is another new favorite, crackling with emotion and the occasional break in Pierce’s voice, potentially a side-effect of the aforementioned illness. The breaks actually work in J. Spaceman’s favor, lending further fragility to the bittersweet song.

Snapping you out of the depths of “Soul on Fire” comes the firecracker known as “Yeah Yeah,” featuring the vocal talents of the Dirtbombs and hearkening back to the early days of Spiritualized (and maybe even a ghost of the Spaceman 3). “Don’t Hold Me Close” is an ethereal duet with Harmony Korine’s wife Rachel, and the pair of voices float together beautifully.

All in all, Songs in A&E is a yet another great Spiritualized album. Kudos to Pierce for keeping up the good fight and giving us the gift of another collection of songs. I don’t think it’s too early to predict this one’s gonna end up on quite a few year-end “Best Of” lists. I can pretty much guarantee it’ll be on mine.


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