Spiritualized w/Soledad Brothers

Sat Nov 8, Showbox, 8 pm (two sets), $17.50 adv/$20 DOS.

It may seem impossible, but with Amazing Grace®, Spiritualized's Jason "Spaceman" Pierce has managed to write a more depressing album than the one entirely dedicated (albeit beautifully) to depression and heroin addiction (Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space). While follow-up Let It Come Down was a comparatively lighthearted stab at rebirth and redemption (it includes perhaps my favorite Pierce lyric: "The trouble with the straight and the narrow/Is it's so thin I keep sliding off to the side"), Amazing Grace® takes Pierce's career-long preoccupation with death and wrings it of any last drop, or smear even, of poetic meditation.

Heralded by Pierce as a return to the basics after a long and distinguished foray into grandiose orchestration, Amazing Grace® is decidedly stripped down musically (the tracks were recorded live, and Pierce claims it's the "least constructed and best recorded LP Spiritualized have made"). But whatever Pierce unloaded instrumentally he replaced with heaps of bathos rivaling that of a Candlebox record, and baloney about how there's no god but he wishes you a happy death anyway, even though you're going nowhere because there's no afterlife. But hold on a sec--if you stay true to yourself, then heaven's only a heartbeat away! Not only that, I swear to Christ the melody behind the single "She Kissed Me (It Felt Like a Hit)" appears, in some shape or form, on every goddamn Spiritualized album since Lazer Guided Melodies. It makes one ache for the drugged-out days of yore.

If Pierce was trying to make a point by naming the record Amazing Grace®, I couldn't find it. After dragging through the book Amazing Grace: The Story of America's Most Beloved Song, I can conceive that Pierce may have been trying to demonstrate the dissemination of music and the way perspective can alter its original intent--or maybe it's a statement about his getting back to basics, as "Amazing Grace" is a song that sounds best with little, if any, accompaniment. In either case, though, it's a reach.

But really, now, what true fan cares about whether or not the new album stinks when Spiritualized is one of the most stunning bands to see live? Whether Pierce is joined by three other musicians, or 20, or 100 (in the case of a few London performances), I've never seen the man produce anything less than an astonishing show, even if it was an hour or so too long. I saw Spiritualized for the first time on the Pure Phase tour, when they were a four-piece consisting of nothing more than drums, guitar, bass, and keyboards. Because of the massive fog-machine output and blinding strobes, I couldn't see shit in the tiny Portland club where they played. But they sounded amazing--all glorious fuzz and clamorous blare, turned up to 11. It was a life-altering night for me, complete with hallucinations and epiphanies, and honestly, I wish I could see them like that again.

On fan sites there's been a lot of violent arguing going on about whether or not Spiritualized have lost it. A recent date in Detroit was generally panned, although two superfans threatened to beat the holy hell out of each other through several posts before an acceptable medium was met. But an earlier show in Indianapolis left all who posted reviews in absolute, rigid bliss--high on white noise, a seemingly intoxicated Pierce, and roaring renditions of everyone's favorite songs. I'm looking forward to that, and after taking a peek at the set list, I'm not worrying about future varicose veins, because while it's filled out with a sampling of each Spiritualized album, the show won't be anywhere near the long-ass three-hour extravaganza of a couple years ago.

Anyway, it's almost impossible to listen to Amazing Grace® and not hear the polyphonic arrangements of the recent past within each song, whether or not said arrangements are actually played. Pierce certainly has a way of implying their sound via inventive use of the instruments and players at hand, and the fact that the new songs were intended to sound live on record might just mean they'll sound better onstage.