Sunday, August 10, 2014

Spoon - "They Want My Soul"

Listen to Spoon's new album "They Want My Soul" at the bottom of this post.
Back in late May, Spoon used the cryptic abbreviation “R.I.P.” to tease their new project. It was the first sign of new music from the Austin, Texas band since “Transference” in 2010.
The internet wondered. Britt Daniel and Jim Eno formed the band in 1993. Were they calling it quits after 21 years? It was a morbid sign from a band that has become almost universally loved over its tenure.
Thankfully, the letters stood for the title of the brazen lead single “Rent I Pay” from their eighth LP, “They Want My Soul.” Eno’s drums come thumping in and seize control of the song. Daniel sings cynical lyrics. He asks for peace that he “ought to be owed,” but realizes that’s what he signed up for two decades ago when he decided to start a rock and roll band.

Along with the commanding stop-and-start bassline and the fuzzy guitars, the opening track previews what the rest of the album will sound like. The rock-solid rhythm section trucks through the record while Daniel sneers.
The spacey “Inside Out” reflects the mystical orb of the cover. Daniel’s lyrics contradict themselves as keyboard, guitar, and harp create a sound without edges—much like the cover’s shapeless entity of light.
“Rainy Taxi” shows the same quiet reserve Spoon’s fellow rockers Wilco deployed on an entire album. Like much of “A Ghost Is Born,” the song uses tremolo-guitar sparingly to make way for a light groove from the piano, bass, and drums. But the song explodes in its brilliant bridge as the bassline pushes and Daniel laments, “I may run with you / I’ve got nothin’ else / I’ve got nowhere else.”
Standout “Do You” is a classic Spoon tune. Daniel’s sing-song “doot-doos” bend around a jazzy major-7 chord as the rhythm section (once again) chugs along. Daniel’s lyrics address a lover he’s calling to action: “Do you wanna get understood? / Do you run when it’s just getting good? / Do you, do you do you?”
“They Want My Soul” gets dark in its midsection. In the ominous "Knock Knock Knock," Daniel alludes to a recurring visitor in the chorus who might be dealing with addiction:  

"Every day I hear ‘knock knock knock'
Then I see you, and you’re shaking
And you’re breaking, and you tell me I’m you’re only friend
Then it starts all over again."

He’s fed up with someone or something for this entire album.

The ghoulish funk of the drums and tentative bassline call to mind “Animals”-era Pink Floyd and make it one of the record’s most intriguing moments. Daniel even puts his voice through a Floyd-like filter towards the end.
“Outlier” segues right in with a faster, urgent drum beat and an organ chord that echoes itself. Daniel is vaguely judgmental in the lyrics, especially in the “Garden State” line that many have noticed. The post-punk and new wave influences on the album are becoming more obvious.

Despite its foreboding title, the title track is one of the album’s poppiest songs. Daniel’s lyrics point out everyone who wants to get at him, but he seems to have accepted it and moved on. It’s Rob Pope’s leapfrogging bassline that completes the song as Daniel yells the chorus over the top of the band.
“I Just Don’t Understand” follows in the footsteps of “Don’t You Evah” by being better than the original, though it could be more fun by getting rowdier towards the end. “Let Me Be Mine” is another poppy song; a fun deep cut that fits well in the album’s second half.
“New York Kiss” closes out the album with brilliance from the band. The eclectic instrumentation—with vintage keyboard sounds, vibraphone, and extra percussion—augments Daniel’s understated vocal. The bassline, calling to mind Radiohead’s “Airbag,” dips in and out of the second verse before storming in with a purely post-punk rhythm in the chorus. The album even has a built-in encore as the band comes back in with another chorus after the stop-time bridge. It’s one of the band’s best songs ever and it couldn’t be much better as a closer.

With “They Want My Soul,” Spoon gives us the poppiness of “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga,” the Pixies-induced angst of “A Series of Sneaks,” the non-conventional sound fans fell in love with on “Kill The Moonlight,” and a little extra polish and finesse we haven’t heard before from the band.

Daniel sings with the confidence and cockiness that only a 20-year veteran of the business could have. He might be jaded, but he’s not washed-up. Once again, he proves he's one of the best songwriters of the 21st century here.

It might not have as much personality or be as much fun as those three other Spoon albums, but “They Want My Soul” is solid as hell. Rock-production gods Joe Chiccarelli and Dave Fridmann make it sleek and cool with near-flawless production.

It’s not new wave enough to be post punk, but it’s not innocent or light enough to be indie rock. At the risk of coining a new dumb music category, I might call it post-indie? In an era where more and more kids are throwing out their guitars and buying turntables, bands like Spoon need to exist so that the legacy of the guitar will continue.

Others have pointed out that “They Want My Soul” seems like it will be the last Spoon album. Listening to Daniel’s lyrics and looking at the title, you get the sense that his return to music is a somewhat reluctant one.

But what a swan song this would be. Spoon have heard everything about how rock music is dying, and they came back to show everyone that, dammit, they can still make a fucking good rock album.

Far from what that teaser seemed to suggest, Spoon is nowhere near dead.

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