SPIRITUALIZED at Kool Haus (132 Queen's Quay East), Monday (October 29). $21. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
jason pierce has never had muchof a problem with ambition in the recording studio.Since their 1992 debut, the records by Pierce's Spiritualized ensemble have grown larger. The London space rock guitarist uses gospel choirs and orchestras the way normal rock bands use keyboards. Each album he's done has been progressively more arranged and orchestral, culminating with 1998's lush Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space.
A follow-up would prove difficult, but after sacking his band, Pierce returns in trademark epic style. There's a 100-piece orchestra and choir on the new Spiritualized set, Let It Come Down, and the product is as grandiose as a rock record can get.
Rather than incorporate strings and horns into the songs after they were written, Pierce wrote the mammoth orchestrations first. As a result, you get a kind of chamber space rock where the tidal wave of French horns that swoop in and take over Out Of Sight are the main attraction rather than simply something tacked onto the end of a tune.
It all makes the then lavish arrangements on Ladies And Gentlemen and Spiritualized's Royal Albert Hall live disc seem tinny by comparison. It also makes former bandmate Sonic Boom's recent decision to take a half-assed version of their old Spacemen 3 group out on tour seem even more absurd.
"A lot of the time when people use strings, they're used as an afterthought," Pierce agrees from Washington. "It's the same with gospel choirs. They're neither necessary nor unnecessary, but a kind of effect to add grandeur to the recording. I've always looked for something rooted deeper.
"This record was always going to be orchestrated, and the idea was to assemble a big band for the whole record. As it turns out, I fucked that up.
"Apparently, there's a kind of formula for big bands where you have X number of trumpets and Y number of violins. When they asked me, I would just say, "Eight trumpets, eight French horns and nine violas.' Parts of it are very wrong, but what makes it interesting is that it isn't academic or perfect. It's Spiritualized."
Put 120 people in a studio, and arrangements are the least of your worries. The mixing process of Let It Come Down was torturous, even by Pierce's picky standards.
The disc was recorded in less than three weeks and mixed over a year, with one entire mix -- "a fucking colossal-sounding record" -- scrapped in the process. During that time, reports told of the Spiritualized honcho taking months to mix individual tracks, only to scrap the mixes and start again. It's not too far from the truth.
"We figured out that mixing a record with 120 tracks of music isn't any different than mixing a record with four tracks," Pierce chuckles. "It's just that the decisions go up exponentially. I will pursue all options.
"There wasn't any concern about losing the essence of the song, because this is the song. Unfortunately, it took me two entire mixes to do that."
Without a budget for a 100-piece touring band, Pierce is now focusing on making the massive-sounding album work in a smaller live setting.
Having acrimoniously jettisoned his long-time touring band, he also had the challenge of finding new musicians who could do the drones, but Pierce insists his new horn-heavy 13-piece crew are fitting in nicely.
"Classical guys are way more rock and roll than a lot of rock and roll people," he laughs. "They just don't talk about it. The whole rock and roll thing relies on the stories, and if you boil them down they basically amount to having a few late nights.
"In classical music, people just get on with it. They don't say, "Hey, we just performed Messiaen and then some Stravinsky piece and then we got absolutely slaughtered and were up until dawn.' It's not part of the vocabulary."