In July 2005, Jason Pierce was nearly finished with the writing of Spiritualized's sixth album, Songs in A&E, which paints a somber portrait of life in the wake of death, when he was checked into the Royal London Hospital. The Spacemen 3 co-founder was diagnosed with advanced periorbital cellulitis with bilateral pneumonia and suffered type 1 respiratory failure. He nearly died, his body withering to a mere 112 pounds.
"It was harrowing," recalls Pierce. "It seemed like I prophesized my own illness."
Pierce's recovery process ultimately mirrored that of the album's completion. His first show out of the hospital, with iconic Austin artist Daniel Johnston, introduced him to acclaimed director Harmony Korine, who in turn asked him to score the film Mister Lonely. "Harmony really threw me a lifeline by getting me back into the studio and working again," Pierce says. "The whole album got soaked in the atmosphere of that film, but it made it easier to go through with it than it would have been to let go of."
Mesmerizing in its scope and attention to detail, Songs in A&E is Spiritualized's most accomplished and transcendent work since 1997's Ladies and Gentleman We Are Floating in Space, the instrumental interludes (named after Harmony) like scar tissue connecting the acid-blues stomp of "I Gotta Fire" and scorching distortion in "You Lie You Cheat" to the anguished neo-traditional "Death Take Your Fiddle" and symphonic splendor of "Soul on Fire." The album even ends with a parting nod to Johnston's "Funeral Home."
"All of my albums have been tremendously difficult to finish," Pierce concludes. "I've got this thing where everything has to be right, from the feeling to the meaning, 'cause once you let it go, you never get it back. This time I feel like I just happened to have a really good excuse for my tardiness."
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