Jason Pierce is no stranger to the concept of mortality. For a man who nearly died of double pneumonia in 2005 and recently spent months in an experimental pharmaceutical-induced recovery from a degenerative liver disease, death is a source of inspiration. On Sweet Heart Sweet Light — the latest release from Pierce’s band, Spiritualized — Pierce’s sense of his own looming mortality is finally allowed to escape from his thoughts to leave an indelible mark on what many fans expected to be Spiritualized’s strongest effort since 1997’s Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Pierce stated that Sweet Heart Sweet Light was inspired by motifs borrowed from pop melodies, and so it contains many songs that the band had previously rejected because they were “too pop.” This influence is evident in the repetitive syncopation of songs such as “Hey Jane” and “I Am What I Am,” both of which sound as though they could have been recorded by a clean-shaven and suited-up version of The Libertines. However, in spite of this obvious departure from the band’s patented space rock vibe, the first half of the album finds itself at its most accessible during those moments in which Pierce bares his soul, such as in “Little Girl.” Here, Pierce is at his most vulnerable, grousing over thoughts and emotions that often seem discordant with, and a bit too profound for, the rudimentary guitar riffs and tambourine jingles that accompany them, as in “Get What You Deserve.” In spite of this discordance, however, the emoting lends the album a sort of brooding rock ‘n’ roll sound reminiscent of Sonic Youth or The Pixies.

By this point on the album, Pierce has built up all the momentum he needs to truly emote on the remainder of Sweet Heart. Having climbed the metaphorical diving board, the album is poised to take its plunge on “Freedom”; however, this also marks the point at which Pierce begins to falter and the anticipated double somersault becomes a belly flop. Suddenly, the once-mellifluous catharsis becomes lugubrious, and lyrics such as those found on “Mary” only distance the listener and make for songs that can only be described as overwrought.

“Mary’s” dramatic, orchestrated ending encapsulates the sort of over-the-top grandeur that characterizes much of the album’s second half until it is finally able to regain footing on “So Long You Pretty Things,” the final song of the album. By this time, however, it is too late. Pierce has already become so far removed from the music and trapped within his own introspection that the album merely sinks under its own weight.

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