"Songs in A and E"

(Sanctuary Records 2008)Spiritualized - Songs in A and E

Seeing him as the Lou Reed to Sonic Boom's John Cale (LaMonte Young?), I could never wholly digest the post-Spacemen 3 work of Jason Pierce, aka Spiritualized. The signature swelling strings and majestic ambience, though a logical continuation of the 3's folksy thump n' growl as revealed by the One True Spirit, always missed something to my ear, either too much something or too little of that same something.

Which is still the case on his latest, a comeback album of sorts called "Songs in A and E." Whether or not they are truly in A and E, I can't tell you. What I can say is this: Pierce is unhinged and unspooling quickly. This record is not just about pain; it's painful to listen to. I've heard that although most of these songs were actually written before Pierce's much publicized illnesses, almost every song on this record sounds like it was recorded in an impromptu studio inside of a hospital room. His voice sounds damaged and unhealthy, and is way too low in the mix.

Indeed, most of "Songs in A and E" suffers from poor production, an almost literal interpretation of what a Spiritualized record should sound like, with the guitars and keyboards and effects cranked up very high and everything else milling about in the dusty corners of the room. Tim Holmes mixed this like an Oasis record, when, in fact, it should have been engineered like a Radiohead or Flaming Lips album. Bands like Dead Meadow and the excellent Wooden Ships are carrying the Spacemen 3 torch while pioneering almost-geniuses like Pierce suffer from shitty production and a lack of good handling. There's a skeleton of a very good--not great album--on this compact disc. What Pierce could have used was a martinet in the studio and a life coach in the bedroom: Take your Zoloft! Sing, goddammit! (If I said that about Syd Barrett, I'd be the world's biggest dick, but might there be a nugget of truth to it?)

To wit: On what should be uplifting room shakers like "Yeah Yeah" and "I Gotta Fire," the tempo and the mood drag. He is much more at home on soul-draining ballads like "Soul on Fire" and "Don't Hold Me Close," and even those play like artless confession instead of cathartic uplift.

All of this is not to say it's not a good record, exactly. The challenge of reviewing any new Spiritualized album since "Let It Come Down" is that the enthusiasts will be thrilled no matter what he produces. As for the rest of us, we can save our money.


buy it!