For most artists in the present radio climate, any premeditated
move toward lo-fi recording techniques, grimy guitar textures, or
sloppy “rock ‘n roll” attitude would likely be construed as a
shameless marketing ploy. Some ivory towers out there might even
throw the dreaded “sell-out” tag on any group of freshly minted
garage rockers. At first glance, this would seem the case for Jason
Pierce and Spiritualized. After all, Pierce’s last two albums were
glossy affairs, steamed to perfection in studios filled with full
orchestras and gospel choirs. The music was big, brash and
unapologetically overproduced.

Mira Levitan

Though this approach has certainly served Pierce well, astute
music fans might remember that Pierce forged his identity in the
druggy, white noise, psychedelic sound of Spacemen 3. A longtime
fan of the Velvet Underground and the Stooges, Pierce’s aesthetic
switch feels less like trendy pandering than a return to the junky
guitar haze of his youth.

Amazing Grace opens with several seconds of guitar
feedback before bursting into “This Little Life of Mine,” a
glorious guitar stomp highlighted by ham-fisted piano fills. “She
Kissed Me (It Felt Like a Hit)” continues in much the same fashion,
with craggy guitar solos and a charged Pierce growling through the
noise. The sound is thick and venomous, producing what are easily
the two most aggressive Spiritualized tracks to date.

Even the slower songs on the disc benefit from the new
composition style. “Hold On” survives its trite lyrics and builds
to a frothing, harmonica-led coda, and “The Ballad of Richie Lee”
is a sighing, textured triumph. “Cheapster” dreams up Dylan’s
“Maggie’s Farm” as a skittish, rhythmic assault. “Lord Let It Rain
On Me” is a sticky-sweet ballad that distills the essence of
Pierce’s gospel epics. On “Never Goin’ Back,” the band turns in a
churning, vitriolic masterpiece that is as memorable for its heavy
blues trudge as it is for its scathing white-noise guitar solo.

The band cools off as the album ends, soothing the burn with two
stripped-down hymns, the best of which, “Lay It Down Slow,” bathes
Pierce’s tired, survivor voice against a gorgeous Hammond organ,
soft piano chords and a solitary violin. By the time the drums kick
in, the dirty guitar is making its peace with the choir, and white
flags are waving from every corner of the battlefield. Amazing
Grace
contains neither Pierce’s best songwriting nor his most
captivating compositions, but its energy is relentless,
successfully re-imagining Pierce’s work as punk rock salvation for
the heathens.

Rating: 3.5 stars.

 

 

 

 

 

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