I have a first-time-i-heard-Spoon memory I shall share now, dear readers. It was a post-parade Mardi Gras party at the ramshackle house me and my two best friends shared and our musical penchant at the time was heavy on Jamaican Ska and intricate rockabilly, which is great for the first 12 hours, but wears on you soon afterwards. When a girl I was half-hearted trying to woo referred to the Skatallites as polka, I knew we needed help. Fortunately a local band hero had happened by with Spoon's first album in his jacket pocket and helped reset the party on a cool angular not-tyring-to-be-something-else vibe it sorely needed. He and I sat on the couch drinking single malt scotch and eating Pringles, a delicious odd combination much like singer Britt Daniel's light-blue-eyed soul and guitarist Jim Eno's crystalline sense of pop.
I sorta kept up with Spoon over the years as their popularity grew, but really they never grabbed me like they did that first time. I will say that the "Way We Get By" song from 2002's Kill the Moonlight was my favorite single that year, a fact underscored that it is stuck in my head again just for mentioning it. Then over the last couple months there has been a strong marketing breeze from the west foretelling of Gimme Fiction as one of the most anticipated albums ever. I guess it worked, since I have been anticipating it myself, without even being a huge fan. A little bird led me to the Merge website to see when its being released and lo, the album in its entirety is being streamed for your and my listening pleasure.
It opens with the sustained piano and drum clatter "The Beast and Dragon, Adored" sounding like lead singer Britt Daniel has been dipping into his Lennon box sets over the last 3 years. Not that I'm saying its a bad thing, but that boom of a piano is unmistakable. Things get a little more rock-chestral with cellos and whatnot on "The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine" and their angular funky side shows on the disco-Stones infected " I Turn My Camera On," frankly my favorite side of Spoon. They pull this off with more cockiness and sophistication that the current range of iPod shadow-dancer soundtrack generator. "My Mathematical Mind" operates as a monolithic set of piano chords that box in the soul of the vocals like a flower straining against its roots in manicured bed.
"The Delicate Place" lightens up the bombast for a minute with reverbed guitar and vocal harmonies. "Sister Jack" comes in as a upbeat strident guitar Kinks/Beatles style-jack that is catchy enough to have me on my third listen. "I Summon You" sounds breaks with the refracted Beatlemania of Gimme Fiction in that it sounds like the catchier strain of Wilco songs without Jeff Tweedy's stoner-leaning smoothening agent applied.
"The Infinite Pet" has a lifted Booker T bass groove and a walking blues John Lee Hooker structure that makes this one of the more interesting tracks on the album. Its the one that has the icy otherworldliness and ironically marks the point where Spoon starts sounding more like their own band .It reminds me of my earlier encounters with the band, as does the synth and effect laden space jamble of "Was It You?" "They Never Got You" has a a great new wave Naked Eyes cadence to it that still sounds original. The album proper (there is a 4-song bonus CD available with the release) closes with "Merchants of Soul" which brings the varying convergences of style back full circle, when that piano is wheeled back in and the Joy Division drum stutters are set back into play. I'm not saying its bad, but I was really digging their weirder side, and was sort of hoping they would take us put that way.
Still, as much hyped hings go, this is still pretty good. I don't think its going to set your brain on fire like Series of Sneaks did to me when I first heard it, or the beyond infectious "Way We Get By" did, but if you are okay with your brain not being set on fire all the damn time, then this could occupy a coveted place in your summer soundtrack.
Kudos to Merge Records for streaming this album from their website allowing me to successfully bystep the mailer song and dance of begging for promos and cutting off the download frenzy in a logical way.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com