After the arduous process of making 2001's hyper-orchestrated Let It Come Down and hearing the fierce, back-to-basics rock of bands like the White Stripes and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Jason Pierce vowed that the next Spiritualized album would be a departure from the excesses of his previous efforts.
In some aspects, Amazing Grace makes good on his word: right down to its cover art -- a photo of a naked arm, free of any ornament (or track marks) -- the album makes a show of its simplicity.
The pair of rockers that begin Amazing Grace are just as driven as anything that has come out of the recent wave of garage rock revivalism, but save for some lo-fi affectations, could easily appear on any of Spiritualized's other albums.
Indeed, lyrics like "This little life of mine/I'm gonna let it slide" and song titles like "She Kissed Me (It Felt Like a Hit)" are so quintessentially Spiritualized that they border on parody.
The album's softer moments also have a slightly rehashed quality and are still fairly ornate.
While "Hold On" and "Oh Baby" are more restrained than Pierce's Let It Come Down material, that just means that their excesses are less excessive -- there's only one orchestra and gospel choir per song.
However, the processes that Pierce used to craft the album aren't as important as the fact that its songs aren't especially distinctive.
Amazing Grace touches on all of Spiritualized's song archetypes: fiery rockers ("Never Going Back," "Cheapster"), gospel-tinged pleas for salvation ("Lord Let It Rain on Me"), ethereal laments ("Rated X"), and forays into jazz ("The Power and the Glory"), but, despite energetic performances and a relatively simple approach, very few of the songs connect.
If anything, the stripped-down production magnifies the album's nondescript songwriting.
The standout track is "The Ballad of Richie Lee," a bleakly beautiful song that truly does use the orchestra in a restrained and powerful way, making a logical progression from where Pierce's music has been to where it could be going.
Amazing Grace is far from a bad album, but it's not an especially compelling one, either.
The yin and yang of Spiritualized's symphonies and rock make for a sharp contrast in his work, but they can also settle into a rut, as is the case here.
Die-hard Pierce fans may find a lot to like about Amazing Grace, but then again, they may find another spin of Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space more rewarding.