It took almost a week of listening to Songs in A&E to feel comfortable reviewing it. There is a presence apparent in Jason Pierce's delivery that made this album feel too meaningful to absorb completely on the first indulged listens. After 6 or 7 spins, I was happy to learn that the name of the group does not mislead the listener whatsoever. Spiritualized delivers a sound seemingly larger than themselves, transcending deep into a spiritual state that channels you through every end of the emotional spectrum: love and hate, joy and sadness...all channeling Pierce's characters.
After a short, unnecessary intro track straight from "Fantasia", the album continues strongly with "Sweet Talk", a well-done ballad sounding Velvet Underground-esque with a French horn driving home Pierce's ambiguous lyrics about war, love and lies. Although it seems a bit out of place as the first full song on the album (it would be fitting much later), "Sweet Talk" adequately foreshadows the profound sentiments present throughout the remaining tracks.
The highlight of this album shines on an uplifting folk/pop track, "Soul on Fire" (and I don't care if Pierce didn't want it on the final cut). A resounding choir and strings are brilliantly layered over powerful lyrics and memorable vocal melodies, as Pierce sings "Baby, ya never should say never / I got a hurricane inside my veins / and I want to stay forever".
It's surprising that the same artist wrote "Death Take Your Fiddle", as it comes from an entirely different, less uplifting place. The detailed inhaling and exhaling creates a feeling of illness, while Pierce moans "Morphine, Codeine, whiskey - they won't alter / The way I feel now death is all around", haunting the listener even further. He continues with this down-trodden tone in several other tracks, including "You Lie You Cheat" as well as "I Gotta Fire", where another of Pierce's characters finds himself struggling, but this time with hope: "So hard to fight when you're losing / I got a little fire in my soul".
This is Pierce's first album in five years, during which he suffered a near-fatal illness leaving him hospitalized for some time (note the play on words: in the UK, "A&E" popularly refers to the Accidents and Emergencies ward). His honest, croaky voice and delicate songwriting pull from all aspects of life, possibly echoing his former bouts with drugs, alcohol and overall health. Pierce seems to have reigned it all together here and composed an incredible album. That being said, the album could do without the intermittent "Harmony" tracks that should provide smooth transitions, but rather distract more than captivate. His sense of timing also seems to be a bit off, with many tracks being too good to be so short ("Soul on Fire") or not good enough to be so long ("Baby I'm Just a Fool"), but, as a whole, Songs in A&E is superb.
Put this album on and let your soul relax and then tense up, and then back again, experiencing everything in between; all the while accepting the company of another being who seems to have already experienced it all.