It’s been nearly four years since the last Spiritualized LP, but just like Songs in A&E, Sweet Heart, Sweet Light arises from a situation not of Jason Pierce’s choosing. While A&E is named for the Royal London Hospital ward in which he was treated for a nasty, life-threatening bout of pneumonia, Sweet Heart was created during treatment for a degenerative liver disease, which necessitated Pierce ingesting an experimental drug cocktail that triggered sensations far from the chemical euphorias of his earlier work. There’s a morbid irony in the fact that a guy who came up making some of the druggiest music imaginable now has to push through his meds to get an album out. Pierce recognizes this: The cover of his breathtaking 1997 album Ladies And Gentlemen, We Are Floating In Space looked like a throwback prescription label, while Sweet Heart’s resembles the world’s most confusing chemical symbol.
Thankfully, Pierce isn’t bummed about his situation. Far from it. Instead, he pushes through his plight, with yet another offering drawn from his trinity of transcendence: love, drugs, and God. From its opening moments, in fact, Sweet Heart packs in one of Pierce’s most impressive works yet. “Hey Jane” is a nearly nine-minute Britpop throwback in two parts: The first bit grooves until it quickly collapses into itself, while the second part takes five minutes for a dramatic, James Brown-style rise from the ashes, with Pierce haunting the titular woman: “Hey Jane, are you gonna die?”
Sweet Heart is shot through with this sort of woozy awareness of mortality, draped in Pierce’s signature simple-yet-lush orchestrations. “Jane” is bookended by the gospel-tinged slow burn “So Long You Pretty Thing,” which pairs a church organ with a direct plea to Jesus. The lightheaded string section of “Get What You Deserve” feels like a simulation of an IV-drip hallucination, which Pierce winkingly acknowledges with the double entendre “gonna shoot you while you’re laying down.” Pierce may wish he was dead, as he sings on the George Harrison-tinged anthem “Little Girl,” but as Sweet Heart demonstrates clearly, with the right combination of chemicals, faith, and affection, it’s possible to achieve an imitation of the afterlife from right here on earth.