Spiritualized's Jason Pierce has often cut a troubled figure during his 30 year career. Between drug and alcohol abuse and persistent and often life threatening illnesses, the 46 year old was also struggling to match the success of his landmark 1997 album Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space.
Now fully fighting fit, Pierce is riding a wave of critical acclaim he has not seen since the release of that album. Ordinarily this would not bother him. But Spiritualized's seventh studio album was recorded under strange circumstances. During the recording Pierce underwent chemotherapy for an unspecified liver disease and for much of the process was under heavy medication. Not a whole lot different to other Spiritualized albums you might say, but Pierce himself claims to have very little memory of even making Sweet Heart, Sweet Light.
“There was no control (on this record) so I don't know how different it would have been if I wasn't on those drugs. I think it would've been quite different and not so confusing. Usually when I make a record, especially when I'd finished it, I got a real idea of what I'd made and what I'd done and that's why I don't worry about how it's received, what kind of record it is or how it's reviewed. I've got that already fixed in my head. This one, really I had no idea. So it was almost a shock, and huge relief when people started really liking the record. Usually that doesn't bother me either way”.
People 'really liking' the record might be something of an understatement on Pierce's part. It's a rare thing but even on first listen Sweet Heart Sweet Light sounds like a classic. From the upbeat bounce of 'Hey Jane' to the Bowie nodding 'So Long You Pretty Things', Pierce kicks and screams, cries for help and finds redemption for just short of one glorious hour. What isn't an understatement is that Pierce really has no idea how he got there.
“I don't really know. I think it's really important when you make a record to just be honest and write down how things are and I don't really think about what kind of record I'm trying to make. If I really wanted to make a pop record - and I don't think I have made a great rock pop record, but people have written about it as being just that, I think it's quite failed in that respect. But that's how music evolves – it's all in the failings, it's all in the bits that go wrong”.
The album might not have even happened had it not been for a series of anniversary shows Pierce played for Ladies And Gentlemen to coincide with the release of the remasters of the seminal album. Before the tour Pierce was wary of going down the nostalgic route, but performing the album live convinced him to try and make something better.
“They were glorious shows to do and also we couldn't have performed that at the time of the record's release. We weren't able, a lot of that record was put together in the studio, it wasn't played live and we weren't able to do that. So to be able to play with 50 piece orchestras, especially in some of the places we took it was quite amazing but all the time there was a little voice in my head saying 'Don't stop here, don't get involved in this because there is something deeply unsettling about admitting that the whole thing is over'”.
“I knew I wanted to make another great record, if that's the right word to use, I don't think you can really say that about your own music. But part of me was full of this horror that this music that I loved so much was folding back itself, it was all turning back on itself going 'Here's a great moment from ten years ago and here's another great band from 15 years ago'. Everybody is reforming and playing over old ground. And then there was a kind of shock that I was getting involved as well, that I was doing the same”.
The success of Sweet Heart Sweet Light has put paid to any suggestions that Spiritualized would become just another trip down memory lane, and having over come his health issues Pierce is looking forward to getting the new material out on the road.
“I didn't do the treatment to make a record, I wanted to get well enough to tour, that's what I enjoy doing most. I'm properly back to where I should be now”.
On Sweet Heart... track 'Freedom', Pierce sings “I got no right to be here”. Whether or not the line is a reference to his health, we should all consider it lucky that he is still here, much in the way Pierce himself believes in luck.
“It (Ladies And Gentlemen...) got quite lucky and became a lot of people's favourite Spiritualized album. So to equal that, or to equal that in peoples minds, it just felt that it had gone somewhere, it all kind of worked out”.