It's been a tumultuous couple of years for Spiritualized figurehead Jason Pierce. After watching his band disintegrate in a haze of heroin and false accusations, he circled his (remaining) wagons and re-emerged with 2001's patchily brilliant Let It Come Down
. While critics and pundits alike dismissed the album as a poor follow up to the near-legendary Ladies and Gentlemen We are Floating in Space
, Pierce watched his new touring ensemble (which included a full horn section) collapse, the majority of the damage inflicted by his own heavy hand. The remaining band slogged on through the remaining dates, but those shows were often an exercise in futility, with Pierce in particular looking utterly knackered. In light of such turbulent circumstances, a three-year recording/live hiatus certainly wouldn't seem excessive (nor is it without precedent in the Spiritualized camp) -- which makes Amazing Grace
's swift arrival that much more startling.
Indolent, perturbed and volatile, Amazing Grace finds Pierce checking his wide-screen Spectorian visions at the studio door; he has opted, instead, for a coarse mix of electrified Southern gospel and somnabulent balladeering that has produced the most urgent Spiritualized album since Electric Mainline. Pierce's penchant for grandiloquence appears to be a thing of the past; he has fired the orchestra before they've even arrived, and as such, there's nary a lullaby string chart within the album's twisted maze of grizzled power-chords and screaming Hiwatts.
The electrocuted Delta blues of "Hold On" conjures images of freakadelic '60s rockers The Seeds holding court with Muddy Waters and his pompadour, while the calamitous cacophony of "The Power and the Glory" could easily have found its way onto Ladies and Gentlemen..., and junkie lament "The Ballad of Richie Lee" is an emotionally spent Pierce laying himself bare, track-mark scars and all, for the entire world to see. Any ideas that Pierce's newly-minted family man status may have softened his sonic palette are abruptly silenced by the titanic roar of opening duo "This Little Life of Mine" and "She Kissed Me (It Felt Like a Hit)". Freewheeling locomotive rocker "Cheapster" sounds like a Keef-fronted Stones circa 1972, shattering organ fills and fuzzed-out harmonica embellishing the supercharged six-strings and Pierce's drunken snarl, while the tender-hearted "Lord Let It Rain on Me" channels the soul of Arthur Conley through the dystopian spirit of John Lennon.
Though Pierce has stripped away a great deal of the bombast (100-piece orchestras, tubular bells, full gospel choirs) that afforded his last two records epic status, Amazing Grace towers over them in terms of pure musicianship and raw emotion. The record's "live" feel only serves to add to its power -- a glowering testament to the phenomenal power Pierce brandishes in front of the board, as opposed to the aural-obsessive tendencies he exhibits behind it.
By pumping a current of cerebrally frazzled wattage though Amazing Grace Pierce has all but exploded the myth that Spiritualized LPs are strictly by-the-book studio affairs. Gnawing guitars, sloppy drumming (both things you never would have heard on a Spiritualized record) and Pierce's fractured ego have given way to a sound far more coherent and infectious than any previously housed within Mr. Spaceman's unwieldy canon.