J. Spaceman turns a rough recovery into rock & roll bliss
J. Spaceman’s not just taking drugs to make music to take drugs to anymore.
Spiritualized fans know that the band’s front man (Jason Pierce, to us earth-dwellers) is no stranger to pills and needles. Themes of drug dependence and withdrawal are scattered throughout the band’s catalogue – and half their merchandise is at least an allusion to the related paraphernalia.
But as Pierce recorded Spiritualized’s latest album Sweet Heart Sweet Light, he wasn’t trying to drug himself to a higher plane — he was just trying to stay alive. Battling a degenerative liver disease throughout the record’s production, he underwent constant experimental medical treatment, which reportedly caused as much damage as it worked to repair both his body and mind.
The result of this grueling process was Sweet Heart Sweet Light, an album that — like Pierce himself – seems to have defied all odds. Despite the crippling illness and devastating recovery process, J. Spaceman has managed to put out some of the most consistent and compelling work Spiritualized has released in years.
Pierce has described this as his first attempt at a pop record — a description most should probably take with a grain of salt considering that its lead single, “Hey Jane,” clocks in at just under 9 minutes.
Though to be sure, Sweet Heart certainly takes a step away from the band’s prog rock, space-happy sensibilities, moving closer instead to the AM pop of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Organs and straightforward guitar riffs dominate “Hey Jane” from the very start, and follow through to its uplifting, caroling reprise.
Other tracks stand out as blatant – but no less graceful – nods to Spaceman’s longtime hero Phil Spector. “Little Girl” and “Get What You Deserve” drench you in wall after wall of sound, glittering over melodies that could easily and eerily pass for long lost gems of Pete Ham or George Harrison.
The album features a noticeably polished sound for a band known for being as many parts Velvet Underground as it is Pink Floyd. But songs like the gritty “I Am What I Am” (co-written by Rock and Roll Hall-of-Fame inductee Dr. John) remind fans that they’re still listening to the same guys responsible for the thunderous distortion of “Electricity” and the “Cop Shoot Cop…”
And if you’re not sold on the group’s updated devotion to the classic rock cause, that’s what the album closer is for. “So Long You Pretty Thing” is a grandiose rock anthem that pulls out all stops, building with a Spector-like choir and orchestra that swell into the song’s operatic finale.
As Spaceman sings: “So long you pretty thing / God save your little soul / The music that you played so hard / Ain’t on your radio…”
This is a heartfelt love letter to the rock & roll of old, as only the devout Spaceman could pen.