The title of the latest effort by Spiritualized is a play on accident and emergency ward, a place where the group's songwriter and main man, Jason Pierce, spent nearly a month in 2005. That he was shriveled and bed-ridden from bilateral pneumonia, not from shooting junk into an eyeball, is rather telling. Pierce is maturing, and his new songs show that indulgences do beget consequences. "Borrowed Your Gun" plays with narcotic-induced dementia, wherein the narrator shoots up his parents — with bullets. "Death Take Your Fiddle" cops an old blues trick, dressing Death in a bard's garb, and features a Dictaphoned loop of ragged inhaling and exhaling. One can't help but think it's the sound of an expiring drug casualty.
Pierce has also scaled back the Duke Ellington-like excess found on releases such as Let It Come Down — now frequently leaning on only empyrean string arrangements and fragile guitar ("The Waves Crash In," "Goodnight, Goodnight"). This might spotlight his shortcomings; Pierce's stacked, blustery overdubs are often cited as nothing more than pretty gift-wrap for flimsy songwriting. But it similarly puts the focus on Songs in A&E's blushing melancholia and detached, wistful vocals. It's certainly not Spiritualized's best, but it does exhibit real growth — or at the very least, a willingness to grow — as Pierce looks to wash away the cumulative addict's stink.
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