The "A&E" in the title of Spiritualized’s latest album has nothing to do with the Arts and Entertainment referenced on the cover of this magazine. Far from it: “A” stands for “Accident,” and “E” for “Emergency,” as in the wing of the London hospital where bandleader Jason Pierce spent one month of 2005 and very nearly died from pneumonia in both his lungs.
“So hard to fight when you’re losing/I gotta a little tear in my soul,” Pierce sings on “Sitting on Fire,” a key track on Spiritualized’s first full-length in five years. But while the lyrics are melancholy, the mood is exultant, a celebration not just of life over death but also of a renewed musical purpose—an aspect the pseudonymously known J. Spaceman freely admits went missing from his work over the past decade.
Songs in A&E is packed with mellow mini-epics—“Sweet Talk,” “The Waves Crash In,” “Borrowed Your Gun,” “Goodnight Goodnight”—tracks no doubt influenced by Spiritualized’s recent “Acoustic Mainlines” performances featuring gospel vocalists and strings. But the disc rocks in just enough spots to feel varied, namely the early Spacemen 3-esque “Yeah Yeah,” the Dylanish “I Gotta Fire” and the glorious sing-along pop of “Soul on Fire,” one of 2008’s must-download tracks.
Six instrumental “Harmony” interludes—ranging from 24 to 92 seconds apiece—feel unneeded and sap some momentum. But hey, it’s tough to fault a guy who came so close to perishing for craving a little extra symphonic bliss.
The bottom line: ***1/2