When one gets into this business of criticism, where the art is meta-art striving to somehow be more than the root art, one cannot help but examine one's motives. I've noticed that my own output has skewed toward more mainstream acts, which is something I swore I wouldn't do. I thought that adding my two cents in on acts clearly above ground was like dumping a water bottle into the sea, possibly valuable insight flung willy-nilly into the abyss. The underground stuff is much more fun. There is no rope to cling to, nor a monument to topple when no one else has written about something. I feared I was losing my astronaut legs, choosing the market as a place to stroll. Fortunately, recent releases from indie darlings (which means minor league major players) Spoon and Interpol have shed some light on things and might just send me running back to the subterranean realms where I belong.
Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
Everyone loves Spoon. I have heard that the Austin Chronicle no longer bothers with a music category in their annual Best Of, mostly because Spoon always wins. I look at Spoon in their present incarnation: a smidge of swagger, a dash of racket, all dropped into an immediately accessible beat driven package and think "What's not to like?" the danger of this question, the irony of the no-brainer, is that by eliminating a negative, you don't necessarily achieve a positive. Spoon is equal parts Fleetwood Mac suburban bliss out and Prince micro-funk (I know a musician that once took a ride with Britt Daniels and reported that Fleetwood Mac and Prince were the only CD's in his car) strained through an understanding of proto-new wavers Suicide. Take "Don't Make me a Target" which struck me as the perfect song for a stylish Target ad. It reminds me of Blur without the self-analysis, quick statements without much meat behind it. "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb" is the kind of bubblegum Yo La Tengo does so much better because they have an actual taste for it. To me Spoon sounds a little too detached from its pop sensibilities. Their earlier releases like Girls Can Tell and Telephono work this detachment well because they are rather ice-cold. Here, it just feels like a frozen pop tart that hasn't thawed out all the way.
Not to say there are no real rewards on Spoon's latest. "Rhythm & Soul" is a groovy little dancer like "I Turn My Camera on" was, applying some Sly & Robbie disco tricks without sounding horrible and anemic like actual Sly & Robbie does. "Eddie's Ragga" is a straight up titration from "Radio Clash" but then I like "radio Clash" every time I hear it. The most interesting moment comes on "My Japanese Cigarette Case" which reduces the Spoon formula to its basics: a tambourine/snare beat, a spare guitar line and some barely acrobatic, staccato vocals, but as the song progresses, we get swoopy dub fixtures, piano and a couple Let it Be moments. It's a hodge-podge of a song, but a good one. Unfortunately, hodge-podge does not a great record make. A good one, but not a great one.
Our Love to Admire
Interpol is bigger than Jesus, and as one that grew up on The Chameleons and Joy Division and all that which Interpol channels, I cannot help but find their success validating. Our Love to Admire follows the winning formulas that pushed Antics into the stratosphere, pulling back a little of the gloss. The cartoonish melodrama of the opening line of "Pioneer to the Falls" Show me the dirt pile and I will pray that the soul can take three stowaways would have totally won me over then and does still today. You cannot take this seriously, just like I cannot fail to see some humor in a song called "No I in Threesome"
The big single "The Heinrich Maneuver" is a weird catchy tune centered around a winning line how are things on the west coast even if the singer sounds a little like Bert from Sesame Street intoning it. "Mammoth" is more to my liking, lots of exegesis and stomp and angularity. It's no Gang of Four, but it qualifies as a Gang of Two-and-a-Half. Same with the caveman garage groove of "All Fired Up" but replace Go4 with The Fall as the band it's not quite. There are some places where their influence mining hits a dry vein, like the darkened orchestral maneuvers of "Wrecking Ball," but none of it has me scrambling for the next button. As big pop bands go, we can do a lot less than Interpol, but with that base covered, it sends me longing to go back to left field.
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