Only a few years ago, the release of a new Spiritualized album seemed like sort of an event. Known for his control-freak ways and attention to and obsession with details, his releases seemed to get more and more massive from album to album. Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space was a masterpiece of post jazz and noise freakouts combined with warm anthems while Let It Come Down was the sound of a woozy narcotic acceptance filled with gospel choirs and huge orchestral backings. Even Live At Royal Albert Hall felt meticulous and dizzying in scope.
Perhaps in an attempt to get away from all that, Amazing Grace is the album that eschews much of what made the above albums so great. It popped up on file sharing programs before hardly anyone knew what it even was, and signals a slight return to a more stripped-down sound for Pierce and the band. At 11 tracks and just over 45 minutes, it's easily the least indulgent of the releases for the group thusfar, and although it's a bit spotty, it's another welcome album from a man who seems like he'll never quite purge all his inner demons.
The first two tracks on the release rock of the gate with a rollicking force. "This Little Life Of Mine" rides a wave of crunchy guitars and honky tonk piano playing over a thick rhythm section while Pierce sounds like he recorded his vocals through shredded speakers. "She Kissed Me (It Felt Like A Hit)" speeds things up and strips them down even more, racing along with blistering guitars and crooning vocals that make it sound like a flip effort to blow away the glut of garage rock that has bloated shelves lately.
The entire album isn't full of full-on rock, though, and Pierce is back with several slow tracks that are among some of the best that he's ever done. "Hold On" opens with a bit of a noise freakout of wailing guitars, jangling piano, horns, and percussion, but soon settles down into a soft ballad that Pierce does so well. Even though it clocks in at roughly 4 minutes and the instrumentation is stripped-down a bit from what he used to do, it still packs a punch (especially with the somewhat swampy rock build at the end). Likewise, "The Ballad Of Richie Lee" mixes a touching string arrangement with warm organs and a dirty guitar riff into a compressed thing of beauty at only three and a half minutes.
Despite the sometimes seemingly random sequencing (stripped-down rockers like "Cheapster" stuck next to spaced-out slow burners like "Rated X"), Amazing Grace is another mostly-satisfying album from Pierce and his ever-revolving gang of musicians that he calls Spiritualized. Even though the dirtied-up approach is a welcome change, he's still at his best when crooning the drugged-out, heart-rending torch songs. As mentioned above, this is one of his most concise albums ever, and yet another quality release from a prolific artist.