Finally, more than a half-year after the CD reissue of Spiritualized’s Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space by Sony, comes the vinyl version of the album from Plain Recordings. This reissue may disappoint those into sonics, however.
A side-by-side comparison of this vinyl with the original 1997 Arista U.S. CD version, which this LP is clearly based on, as it has the same artwork and the same version of the title track*, reveals the vinyl’s lack of luster.
This most likely comes from the use of a digital source, which Plain Recordings has already been accused of using for many earlier reissues**. Plus, considering Spiritualized’s very own official website has never confirmed a vinyl reissue (see http://www.spiritualized.com/news/) adds to the questionable quality of this vinyl reissue.
That said, the quality of the packaging impressed me at first sight (see more images scattered throughout this post). It even included a prescription information sheet with all the sly yet pertinent references to drugs and music included in the original packaging. The inner LP sleeves even have the silver foil-like presentation of the pill packaging that seemed the theme of this release and the back cover even has an expiration date stamped on it in off-text coloring: “EXP 03 3001.”
The reason for this release is that Spiritualized is currently celebrating the belated 10-year anniversary of what many critics and fans have come to consider the band’s masterpiece. Frontman and founding member Jason Pierce had been asked to gather the band together and perform the album live. In October of last year the band finally did so at London’s Royal Festival Hall with an orchestra and choir. At the end of this month, July 30, Pierce brings a similar set-up to NYC’s Radio City Music Hall.
I was lucky to see the original tour for Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space in NYC, when the material was new and fresh. The band was not augmented with an orchestra then, but was still huge, 10 or so members strong, and they fittingly performed in a Gothic cathedral, where the large vaulted ceiling disappeared into darkness above thanks to the blue-hued lighting and smoke machines. That was more than a good enough live experience for me, so I’m not too disappointed about missing this Radio City Music Hall show. But good for the band for doing it and the fans that get to see it. If I could afford it, I would go.
For now, I have these slabs of wax to commemorate the album with, so let me first deal with the problem with the sound of the records. Playing it on my Technics SL-1210MK2 turntable with a Shure M35X phono cartridge through a Yamaha RX-V496 amp revealed a sound that lacked the punch of the CD pumping through my Oppo Blu-Ray BDP-83 player and through the same Yamaha amp. The sound was softer and, dare I say, fuzzier, an unfortunate sign of a loss of sound quality transferred from a digital source.
I must admit that hearing the album on my system added clarity to the music of Ladies and Gents, an album that sometimes ventures into amazing realms of noise, and definitely rewards listening on a proper hi-fi. I never realized the opening title track had bells anchoring the melody. It just never stood out to me until now, as I had never taken the time to put my old CD on this system, and the vinyl still does just an OK job at bringing out the distinct sonics of the array of instruments used on Ladies and Gentlemen. Where it fails, is when things get complex in the music. Albums properly mastered for vinyl are not supposed to get distorted when things seem to go crazy and loud in the layers of music. This is revealed in the loud ending of “Home of the Brave,” making the record sound like a CD played back on a bad sound system.
There is also an inherent problem with the album on vinyl in regards to the album’s flow. This was originally envisioned as a CD release, and the runtime reflects what Pierce envisioned as the proper “dosage”: 70 minutes. That meant tagging on 40 seconds of silence at the end of the CD. In an interview I did with him at the time of the album’s release*** he laughed and said about that silence: “That’s the best track on there. That’s so as we can put ‘1 Tablet 70 min’ on the box because otherwise you get 69 point 37 or something, or whatever it is. So it was just tidying up loose ends because somebody would have spotted that, and it would have been all over the Internet for years.” Of course, the dosage in the LP jacket says “2 tablets 70 min.,” but that exact run time is lost on the vinyl.
Nitpicking that detail aside, the true loss of flow from this 2-LP reissue comes from the album’s transition from side B to Side C. This is when “Home of the Brave” melts into the swelling din of “the Individual.” The momentum of the dynamics is lost when you have to swap the records. The songs are tightly wound together not only in their sense of medley but also in the dynamics of the album. The album is so great because of the amazing flow of the songs. That is why this will make such a great experience live, in one flow, but also why it works best as a CD.
Some might point out: Why then is there a 12-CD pack of the album, where 3-inch CDs are each packed in individual bubbles on two blister packs that imitate a pillbox, which was recently re-issued as a limited edition, along with the other anniversary CD releases of the album?:
This version was also released in limited edition version back in 1997, first as a promo and then commercially. During my 1997 interview, Pierce told me: “… I wanted to do it, if nothing else just as a design thing because it doesn’t really work as a musical thing at all in that the album was put together as an album. It isn’t a collection of 12 tracks, so I can’t really think of why anybody would play the limited edition.” There you go, straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.
Yes, these might be pet peeves about the album as a vinyl experience. The music is still amazing, but the vinyl reissue fails as both an LP experience and in its sonic reproduction. The definitive way to experience the album is still on CD, no matter if they do a respectable job on the sonics in a vinyl form.
*The new reissue restores the inclusion of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” into the lyrics of the title track, as Spiritualized mastermind Jason Pierce had originally intended but encountered problems with the clearance of the rights for his use when the album was first released.
**Read the gripes here:
***I shall post the full profile that resulted from this interview in 1997 for “Goldmine” magazine in a series of posts here soon and ahead of the July 30th show in NYC.