And Nothing Hurt is the sound of a seasoned rock ‘n’ roll artist in beauteous collapse. On the eight studio album with Spiritualized (and the first in six years), Jason Pierce doesn’t sound worn out, not in the slightest. But there is a sense that he’s easing toward a well-earned rest. The layers are less dense, the squalls of sound somewhat tamed. This is Pierce in a ruminative space, making music that can be nestled into rather than ridden, clinging to a rock slab bobbing on a cascade of lava. If it’s slightly more sedate, it’s also thrilling in its offhand elegance. Pierce is presenting a self that’s present, emotional, wistful, and properly engaged with his surroundings. He’s not floating in space any longer. Without sacrificing any ethereal artistry, Pierce is down on Earth.
Largely built upon melancholy melodies, several of the tracks call to mind the spare offerings of Lambchop, albeit with the significant difference of Pierce’s evocative tenor instead of Kurt Wagner’s weighty baritone. Where Lambchop is often so stately as to become inert, Pierce’s predilection for teetering stacks of sonic exploration keeps the songs robust and textured. He hasn’t jettisoned his big ideas, merely brought them down a manageable size. “Here It Comes (The Road) Let’s Go” is a fine example. Its mildly Beatlesque, swooning pop suggests what Oasis could have accomplished unburdened of their swelling pomposity. The cut is lithe and alluring, tilting to less in order to achieve more.
The relative lightness of touch reveals a splendid tenderness in Pierce’s songwriting. The lovely “I’m Your Man” finds Pierce putting himself before a potential partner with affecting humility: “But if you want wasted, faded, uneducated/ Doing the best that he can/ I’m your man, I’m your man.” As if signaling kinship with another artist who had an enviable talent for grand magnificence but also understood the value in intimacy, Pierce gives the familiarly titled “Let’s Dance” a Bowie-esque fragility. Yet more vulnerable, “The Prize” posits uncertainly that love may be the thing that best confers meaning on this messy thing called human existence.
Not everything is so withdrawn. And Nothing Hurt has room for the rollicking fuzz of “On the Sunshine,” and the requisite epic, “The Morning After,” rapidly builds to a boisterous cyclone of sound. These moments are somewhat unique on the album, and yet they feel a proper part of the whole, another facet of Pierce’s swirling musical concepts starting to settle where it’s calmer, on the floor of the rumbling sea. I suppose language like that implies the approach of a creative ending, but that’s not what I hear on this Spiritualized release. It sounds to me like an amazing new beginning.