They Want My Soul
, August 12th, 2014 07:07
You can never predict what's going to be an ear worm. You're unsuspecting and they sneak up on you. And then, before you know it, it's taken over. After a month of listening to the latest Spoon album in the car, on public transport, on foot, in my living room, I've realised it's possessed me. It's only when you realise you're whistling a riff whilst changing a nappy, or humming the chorus whilst making a coffee, does it dawn on you that it has you in its grasp and there's no escape.
It's over twenty years since the Austin band Spoon first graced us with their music. Formed by Britt Daniels and Jim Eno, they were named after Can's theme song to the film Das Messer. Four years ago, Transference, took something of a step back and was more of a lo-fi approach, an effort to rejig their sound, but it failed to build on the standout and breakout brilliance of 2007's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. Transference was produced by Daniel and recorded in his basement flat. In a recent interview with The Guardian Daniel admitted this was a mistake - the record became a labour, not of love, but of annoyance and frustration, it became "fucking tedious". Unsurprisingly, Spoon took a break after touring that album and Daniel, after a chance encounter during that tour, teamed up with Wolf Parade's Dan Boeckner and New Bomb Turks' Sam Brown to form Divine Fits. The resulting album, A Thing Called Divine Fits, was released in 2012, and, upon hearing They Want My Soul for the first time, that sabbatical with Divine Fits was just the refreshing tonic Britt needed to recharge his batteries and get those creative juices flowing. The latest Spoon album echoes some of the feel-good pop of Divine Fits, the joyful and carefree approach that can only be gained from a new band and working with new people.
They Want My Soul is focused, tight and impeccably produced. The songwriting is crisp and tight, Daniel's ear for a catchy and upbeat riff have resurfaced. Spoon inhabit a world of blurred and mixed influences. Are they a rock band? Are they a pop band? Are they an indie band (whatever that)? The answer, as with all these questions, is somewhere in the middle. Of all three. What has remained throughout their career is the beautifully production of the records. After Daniel's previous experience with production, they've brought in uber producers Dave Fridmann and Joe Chiccarelli to work alongside the band and, yet, their affect isn't obvious - this is still, without doubt, a Spoon album and, as with all good producers, they've just helped to focus the music and, in this case, squeeze all the goodness into a perfect and lean 37 minutes.
The songs are driven by Daniel's nasal vocals whilst the music is full of flourishes and oddities that are exhilarating and addictive, burrowing their way into your head: the crisp guitar riff that finishes 'Rainy Taxi', the vocal "Do do"s of 'Do You', the rising synth refrain of 'Outlier'; I find myself repeating them infinitum. Yet removing these clever production tricks and catchy riffs don't leave the songs exposed - Daniel has a cutting lyrical tongue, a way of twisting words in and around the music, making them equally catchy and deviously obsessive: "You were smart, you played no part, you just thought what you thought […] You had taste, you had no time to waste, what happened to you kid?" from 'Outlier' sounds like a critical take on selling out, whilst 'Rainy Taxi' contains the barbed line of "As the sun goes fading in the west, there's an army east that's rising still".
As with all classic albums, it finishes perfectly. 'New York Kiss' is a love letter to a specific place and time that can no longer be visited, it's either too painful or too perfect (it's not exactly clear which of these it is): "There ain't a thing I miss, not like your New York Kiss", "Now it's just another place, a place your memory owns […] right now I know no other place I say goodnight" as the twinkling keyboard finishes, it reflects a star lit sky, and the dangerous emotions of lost love and lost time fade out, and the album finishes.
As you let the silence engulf you, the lasting question is, who are "they" of the album title? After following Spoon for over ten years and marveling at their exquisite music, I can only think that it's "them", the band. I've completely submitted to them. Spoon have my soul.