As Spiritualized frontman Jason Pierce admits, calling a recording that features 22 musicians "stripped down" seems a bit disingenuous. But "Amazing Grace" -- the group's first release under its new d
As Spiritualized frontman Jason Pierce admits, calling a recording that features 22 musicians "stripped down" seems a bit disingenuous. But "Amazing Grace" -- the group's first release under its new deal with Sanctuary Records -- is that, at least in the context of the U.K. space rock band's career. Its previous effort, 2001's "Let It Come Down," featured contributions from no less than 100 players.
The new disc's sound is a reimagining of Spiritualized as a straightforward rock band, largely eschewing the meticulous sonic processing and production that characterized most of the group's past albums. But don't lump it in with the "new garage" movement of the White Stripes, Vines and Hives either.
"It's not like we go in well-rehearsed, press play, and you get what we throw down," Pierce says. "The songs were introduced to the band on the day of recording. So the idea was to capture that moment in time... [when] people are still improvising and still finding their way around the song, but they haven't yet learned it."
The recording process for "Amazing Grace" was inspired by Pierce's participation in sessions for free jazz group Spring Heel Jack's 2002 album "Amassed" (Thirsty Ear). Pierce was invited to play guitar and had a revelation about the band's in-studio methods. Watching while the group recorded with pianist Matthew Shipp and trumpeter Leo Smith, Pierce was struck by the concept of preserving spontaneity: "they capture everything about [Smith's] playing: the sound that the valves make or the sound his breath makes," he explains.
Learning the songs in the studio, Spiritualized recorded 12 songs for the new album at a pace of one per day, with minimal overdubs and post-production, resulting in the group's most visceral album yet. Pierce has always been enamored with the live-music experience -- "it's always 10 times better seeing something live than listening to a record," he says -- and he found the studio equivalent during the "Amazing Grace" sessions.
Yet the album, despite the radically different recording technique behind it, still falls in line sonically with Spiritualized's musical path -- the one it embarked on 13 years ago, directly after the breakup of seminal noise rock group Spacemen 3, of which Pierce was a principal member. Starting with debut album "Lazer Guided Melodies" (Dedicated/Arista), Pierce's vision for Spiritualized has played out as simple blues and American roots music-inspired riff motifs, expanded and massaged to fruition with a psychedelic, guitar-based attack.
That vision was nurtured through three more albums during the band's tenure with Arista. But during the period following the new album's recording, what Pierce describes as an "opportunity" arose for the band to sever ties with its former label, and Pierce's own Spaceman imprint soon signed a multi-album pact with Sanctuary.
Highlights of "Amazing" include the all-out rocker "She Kissed Me (It Felt Like a Hit)" and the more celestial-sounding "Hold On." The latter milks an elegant melody with lyrics about the importance of lasting friendship and love, periodically exploding into waves of shimmering, harmonica-led dissonance. The luminous "Lord Let It Rain on Me" is similarly structured, with Pierce musing about the existence of heaven and hell, concluding that he'd rather just experience everything the cosmos has to offer in this life.
On these songs, "Amazing Grace" shows that it does have a lot in common with the rest of the band's catalog, including the bombastic "Let It Come Down." But to Pierce, the new album has distinct advantages, such as the prospect of not having to grapple with arrangements and rework songs to fit into a live performance setting.
"It's the first album [of ours] that's kind of ready to go," Pierce says. "It's off the peg and onto the stage. It doesn't need to be deconstructed in terms of 'how can we make this work live?' or 'what can we do to try to recreate this in a live version?' We can just take it straight out."
The band kicked off a tour of the U.K. and Ireland Sept. 10, which will be followed by shows in continental Europe. A North American tour will follow in October and November, including a trio of shows at New York's Irving Plaza and two-night stands in Toronto, Los Angeles and Austin, Texas.