Amazing Grace (Sanctuary)

Following 2001's overblown Let It Come Down, which featured more than a hundred musicians and grandiose string, horn, and choir arrangements, Spiritualized main man Jason Pierce decided that his group's next album would follow a more stripped-down, back-to-basics rock approach. While it's certainly less dense than its predecessor, Amazing Grace is far from sparse: There are still layers of guitars, the odd gospel choir, strings (but not orchestras), and squealing horns. Still, it's likely that Amazing Grace is as scaled-back an album as Pierce's restless, perfectionist mind can make.

Pierce and company sound infinitely more live and direct here than on previous efforts. The sultry acoustic balladry of "Hold On" is probably the simplest thing Pierce has recorded since his early Spacemen 3 days -- and consequently one of the most moving. His songwriting strengths shine more clearly than ever, because there's less studio gloss for them to fight through. Fans of Spiritualized's bombastic past may feel empty afterward, but with Amazing Grace, Pierce has achieved a perfect balance between his traditional blues-rock leanings and his appetite for studio excess.

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