(Photo by AUTUMN DE WILDE)
With "Transference," out Tuesday on Merge Records, Spoon proves once again it's one of the best album bands working today.
After the release of two singles in 2009 -- "Got Nuffin" in June and "Written In Reverse" in December -- I had my doubts about the new record. After a hook-laden, slickly produced outing with 2007's "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga," the new singles just didn't grab me.
A few days of spinning the new album have turned me around completely. The singles are two of the obvious standouts; they simply work within the context of the album.
To be sure, the stripped-down approach of "Transference" is a left turn for Spoon, but the band relies on other strengths this time around.
One of the band's greatest assets have been Britt Daniel's lyrics, which seem to mean everything and absolutely nothing at the same time. His lyrics have always been opaque, so the listener is left more to rely on the mood of the music and the sound of his voice.
On "Out Go the Lights," for example, I have no idea what he's actually singing about, but the music is melancholy, slightly brooding. The song feels like driving around and smoking after an argument. It feels like the scene in a movie right after the protagonist almost blows it with the girl.
This projection is the appeal of the band. Did any of these things cross Daniel's mind as he composed the song? I seriously doubt it. That's what it sounds like to me, though.
The album is actually far from brooding; it's remarkably energetic. The guitar work on "Is Love Forever?" has a garage appeal reminiscent of the Strokes. The two singles absolutely rock, driven by a combination of piano and guitar.
"Trouble Comes Running," is the hardest charger of the collection. The song is gloriously lo-fi, thriving on the urgency of Daniel's vocals and Jim Eno's drumming. The 42-year-old drummer channels the energy of a college kid for this track.
The song is also obviously a demo version, as are four more of the album's 11 tracks.
The comedown from "Trouble" is "Goodnight Laura," a perfect foil, as the band (or at least Daniel and a piano) ventures into ballad territory. The song is a straightforward lullaby and love song. It reveals a beauty and vulnerability to Daniel's songwriting.
There's just a simplicity to this album. It's the least poppy album they've released since 2002's "Kill the Moonlight" and most stripped down since "A Series of Sneaks" in 1998.
The change in production springs largely from this being the band's first self-produced offering. The freedom from outside influence seems to have made the bandmembers, already self-assured, even more comfortable with the album they've made.
It stands as proof that even after more than 15 years as a band, there's always room to grow.
My Spin: B+
"Transference" is another outstanding offering from Spoon, but it lacks the universal appeal of some of their more pop offerings.
As a fan, I'm thrilled. Anyone in my class probably already owns it or has at least heard it streaming at npr.org.
But I know not everyone will agree. For those who came onboard because of "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga," it may be better to dip their toes in lightly. "Written In Reverse" and "Got Nuffin" are the singles for a reason. Start there. "Who Makes Your Money," "Goodnight Laura" and "Out Go the Lights" all delve a little deeper into the sound.
If you want a real test, though, try the angry urgency of "Trouble Comes Running" or the building tension of "I Saw the Light." If you like what you hear there, buy the whole shebang. You are officially a Spoonophile.
Released: Jan. 19 on Merge Records
Spoon is: Britt Daniel-vocals, guitar, piano; Jim Eno-drums; Eric Harvey-keyboards; Rob Pope-bass