After 25 years in any business, reputations will precede you – so when Jason Pierce further delayed ‘Sweet Heart Sweet Light’ last month to make tiny changes to the album, the world seemed unsurprised. After all, this is a man whose perfectionism once led him to spend four years making an hour of music; another month on a record that’s been in gestation since 2008 is nothing.

But if fans have become patient in recent years, they have also become used to a more restrained Spiritualized incarnation – the slender ruminations that punctuated the last album, and the garage rock of its predecessor, suggested that Pierce’s days of free-jazz gospel bombast might be behind him.

Thankfully, this record suggests otherwise, containing a slew of bona fide Spiritualized epics that do all things good Spiritualized epics should do: ‘Hey Jane’ dices with exhilarating cacophony, ‘Get What You Deserve’ sits on the same drone for its entire seven minutes, delivering a steady vice-tight throttling while gospel choirs and horns rise above, and ‘Headin’ For The Top Now’, not content with simply dropping the ‘g’ from its title, is all heaven and Jesus and bright lights that are, presumably, blindin’.

Among these marathons, though, sit simpler pop songs that are dwarfed by their neighbours. As beautiful as the likes of ‘Too Late’ and ‘Freedom’ might be in isolation, they feel saccharine and cloying here. Indeed, the album’s closer, ‘So Long You Pretty Things’, encapsulates everything that makes ‘Sweet Heart Sweet Light’ both thrilling and frustrating. Its opening minute is a sentimental duet between Pierce and his 11-year-old daughter, culminating in the latter’s giggles, and must be the most twee thing Pierce has ever recorded. The track then drifts into unremarkable orchestral pop before exploding into the most joyous melody you’ll hear this year, augmented by an ever-more-epic finale fanfare. But instead of being a perfect parting shot, the track feels merely rescued by its highlights, and slightly muddled by its multiple directions.

And while ‘Sweet Heart Sweet Light’’s highlights are frequent and terrific, there’s no escaping the fact that the paths trodden here are well-worn: for every standout track it’s hard not to recall a better similar one from a previous record, leaving the album feeling oddly like a Spiritualized megamix – persuasive, engaging and exciting, but ultimately only a memory jogger for past glory.

By Sam Walton

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