September 25, 2003

Spiritualized: Fall From Grace? Never.

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Truth is, ladies and gentlemen, we are no longer floating in space. We neither come crashing down, nor ascend to dear Lord in heaven above. That said, to disembark is still anathema, and we have to maintain a semblance of staying our course. Said Jason “Spaceman” Pierce after handing down to posterity the gospel that is Amazing Grace.

And, it’s quite a strange record: while no other band could make it, something about it strays from what one would expect in a Spiritualized album — if one can expect anything at all, that is. No wonder. Amazing Grace was slated to be a “garage” record, supposedly inspired by, you guessed it, the garage-ity of the White Stripes, the Strokes and their lot. Hence, on Amazing Grace Pierce dispenses with his late inkling for grandeur, showcased most recently on Let It Come Down. Now it may be called “garage,” but it has nothing of that authentic fucked-up abandon that both Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized had elevated to art. So, quite a few tracks here attempt to reinvent the firepower of “Revolution” or “Electricity,” leading to rather drab rock ‘n’ rolling — see “This Little Life of Mine” or “She Kissed Me (It Felt like a Hit)” — that neither revolutionizes nor electrifies. Pierce’s garage bandwagoning, itself a surprising move for a musician of his stature, simply fails to take off, with “Never Goin’ Back” and its feedback-soaked, Doors-esque razzmatazz constituting an unconvincing exception.

As always, however, any Spiritualized record is never just a lump sum of individual songs. The mind-crushing, wistful brilliance of only a few of them is enough to exorcise doubt with a mighty hand and, yes, an outstretched arm. A case in point — nay, the thematic centerpiece of the record — is the brooding, resigned serenity of “Rated X.” Wisely anti-climactic, it dissolves into an odd, jazzy twinkling of each instrument, like a puzzle reconciled to its cut-up pieces. The effect is fascinating. Lyrically, it offers a mirror image: a handful of loosely stringed words, which Pierce nearly mumbles, of such devilish sensibility they cast a spell. “If memory was written down/ I’d cut it out and cross it out” — ironically, that is what Spiritualized albums manage in their own realm, and Amazing Grace is no exception, for all its flaws.

What Pierce attains through music is not unlike what one’s memory does to an ugly past. Memory retouches it, dresses it up, swallows its supposed lessons and shelves it aside, while forging a sense of comfort and even longing for days gone by. So does Spiritualized, in particular channeling therapy through Pierce’s recurring themes of God and love, both tinged with stains of a drug rehab window. Be it God, love, drugs, or even worthless, fickle music, there is hope in being mangled by them, as there is almost tangible dignity in Spiritualized music. Take the ludicrously simple “Hold On”: it is truly inexplicable how, instead of futile knock-knock-knocking on heaven’s door, it bursts it open with a sleight of hand. Treading that same path is “Oh Baby,” which springs into bliss so suddenly and so effortlessly (“and BABY!”), it disappears from sight before one can draw a breath. A true revelation, however, is “Ballad of Richie Lee,” which sees Pierce drawing into mournful, soul-emptying blues.

Amazing Grace is still a fantastic record, even if it leaves an itching feeling of having realized Pierce’s talent far less than a generous degree. So what? A strong Spiritualized record would be a statement of such offensive redundancy, it would have to be struck out anyway.

Archived article by Ilya Shulman