Part way through making Spiritualized’s latest album, the band’s frontman, Jason Pierce, came down with a bout of pneumonia that almost killed him.
The illness put him in the hospital for several weeks in 2005, including 10 days in the intensive care unit. His lungs were filling up with fluid, preventing oxygen from reaching his blood. Doctors put him on a ventilator to help him breathe.
To make things worse, he also had a case of advanced periorbital cellulitis, an infection of eye tissue most commonly found in children under 6. His weight dropped to about 110 pounds and doctors had to revive him twice. His friends and family feared he wouldn’t make it.
Three years later, Pierce has fully recovered. And he’s managed to finish “Songs in A&E,” Spiritualized’s sixth studio album, which was released May 27, five years after “Amazing Grace,” the album for which it was intended as a companion piece.
This summer the band also is on a North American tour, its first in five years.
At first glance it might seem that Pierce’s spell in hospital was a big influence on the finished product — after all, A&E is short for Accidents and Emergency, the British term for a hospital’s emergency ward, and the CD’s sleeve features close-up photos of intravenous drip valves and needles.
Some of the songs also seem to carry a heavy theme, most obviously the melancholy “Death Take Your Fiddle.”
Pierce, 42, remembers little from his time in hospital — and says he failed to find any special perspective from being so close to death.
“It’s like a toothache; you can’t remember the pain” when you think back on it, says Pierce, who has been Spiritualized’s sole constant member after helping to found the band in 1990, after the breakup of his previous group, Spacemen 3.
“I’ve no memory for it. It’s just one of those things, you know, the more days I put between then and now the more distant it gets. Even now it doesn’t seem like a part of this album; it seems more like an excuse why this album was delayed.”
And anyway, Pierce says he’s always been interested in the idea of “music as medicine.” (Drugs have always played a big role in Spiritualized’s music; the band’s second album, “Ladies and Gentleman, We Are Floating in Space,” came with liner notes that read as if they were lifted from a pill bottle.)
Unlike previous offerings, Spiritualized’s latest CD has a more raw and stripped-down sound that leans heavily to blues and gospel.
Pierce says the true inspiration for the album came from the purchase of a black 1929 Gibson acoustic guitar he found years before in a store in Cincinnati.
“I found this really beautiful instrument that kind of dictated the way the songs would sound,” Pierce said. He said the songs seemed to come out spontaneously as he sat down and strummed it, like a folk singer would, instead of the way he operated in the past, which was with “plastic instruments playing a glorious sound.”
When he tried to pick up the record from where he had left off before his illness, he found it hard.
“I had all the parts but no connection. I didn’t know how to finish it.”
He was saved thanks to a chance meeting with filmmaker Harmony Korine, who put Pierce back to work by asking him to score his new film, “Mister Lonely.” The task “put me into this childlike place where I didn’t have to front or have to explain, I just sat at the piano and drums and played.”
Pierce says that with “Songs in A&E,” he was “trying to cover life, cover everything to do with war and life and living and loving, the whole thing and fate and peace.” For example, “The Waves Crash In” and “Borrowed Your Gun” are both downbeat songs about people investing in a “better and bigger” future but making the same mistakes that they were trying to avoid. “Sweet Talk” could be interpreted as an anti-war song.
Pierce has said that “Death Take Your Fiddle” is not about a near-death experience, but about how life isn’t worth living unless you come close to death.