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Spiritualized 'Songs in A&E'

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Spiritualized 'Songs in A&E'
Sanctuary

And in My Own Time I Am Dying

In 2005, Jason Pierce nearly died. After a quarter of a century walking along a pharmacological knife-edge, few could've been surprised that one J. Spaceman, founding member of Spacemen 3 and longtime leader of Spiritualized, almost succumbed to a life of vice. But it wasn't the drugs that did him in.

Mere days after appearing on stage at the Queen Elizabeth Hall alongside Patti Smith and Kevin Shields, Pierce could barely breathe. Diagnosed with double-pneumonia, he was rushed to A&E: Accident & Emergency. His lungs filling with fluid, failing to oxygenate his blood, Pierce was hooked up to ventilators and drips, and spent a month in intensive care.

His girlfriend was offered grief counseling. His kids were brought for a final visit. English broadsheets readied their Pierce obituaries for print. Sales for Spiritualized’s back-catalog —especially their magnum opus, 1997’s Ladies and Gentleman We are Floating in Space— went up. Technically, he died twice. But neither time it took. Jason Pierce nearly died, but didn’t.

Three years on, Pierce returns with his first post-near-death-experience LP, punningly titled Songs in A&E. Fittingly, the set deals in death, hospitalization, self-destruction, and the sounds that go with: wheezing ventilator machines, transient life-support beeps. Lyrically, there's plenty of similarly-themed text; Pierce singing things like "I think I'd like to take myself to heaven" and "I think I'll drink myself into a coma," even croaking “funeral home,” over and over, in a forlorn monotone.

I Believe That I Have Been Reborn

If albums were worth only their back-stories, Songs in A&E would be a classic. Those taken with rock'n'roll mythologies might, indeed, be so besotted by the narrative that everything, herein, is colored a rosy hue. But as stand-alone recording, viewed through the cold light of critical thought, this is a Spiritualized record as archetype; a strangely mediocre attempt at the same kind of rock'n'roll transcendence Pierce has always sought.

Pierce's deathbed stay has hardly made him a changed man; this disc displaying those stock same obsessions —heroin, fire, the Stooges, Jesus, gospel music— that've defined his career. And, though the album is punctuated by instrumental interludes made for Harmony Korine's disappointing motion-picture Mister Lonely, it has the back/forth feeling Pierce always shoots for.

As these Songs in A&E veer between blustering rocker and stark ballad, it’s the same old Spaceman song: the 'highs' mirroring the ecstatic rush of injection (“I’ve got a hurricane inside my veins!”), the 'lows' the hollow abyss of comedown ("goodnight, goodnight, you're coming down"). Pierce sings of life and death in the same up/down language, suggesting he essentially sees life and death as a thematic variant on uppers and downers. Making Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space guaranteed Pierce musical immortality, but his brush with actual mortality hasn't produced the artistic classic many would love Songs in A&E to be. And, as listener, that's a real downer.

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