in Retrospecticus

I bought a copy of They Want My Soul today. Yes, you heard me a “copy” as in an actual CD. There’s not a lot of bands I’d do that for but Spoon? Spoon is special. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is my favorite album of the 2000s and one of the defining albums of my life. If anyone ever made a movie about me (starring Liam Hemsworth), Spoon would be the soundtrack. The reasons I love Spoon are simple; great songwriting, great vocals, and fearlessness.

Spoon has had their brushes with big success with songs like “I Turn My Camera On” and “The Underdog”, but neither of those songs changed how they go about writing and recording music. Spoon is poppy when they want to be and experimental when they want to be. This is a band that plays by their own rules and don’t give a shit about nuffin’ else. So many bands I liked before I became a cynical adult have either gone on to playing in ginormous stadiums or sunk into obscurity. Spoon has remained consistently good. No, not good, great. In honor of their eighth release, I’ve decided to put together a retrospective. Now open wide for a spoonful of greatness.

Telephono (1996)

TelephonoSome would say Spoon got off to a rocky start with their first album Telephono, disregarding it as a Pixies knock off. You can’t deny the loudQUIETloud influence right down to the Kim Deal-style backing vocals. Nonetheless, Telephono is an electrifying display of Spoon at their heaviest.

The album kicks off with “Don’t Buy the Realistic” a song so appropriate of the leadoff spot it has started every Spoon playlist I’ve ever made. “Nefarious” is another one of the album’s premier one-two punches. As heavy and angst-driven as “Nefarious” is it’s surprisingly catchy. The lyric: “This is fuckin’ torture to me, it’s fuckin’ torture!” For whatever reason might be my favorite Spoon lyric of all time. That sharp-tongued cadence is the blood that pumps through Telephono. Though the songs on the latter half of the album aren’t nearly as memorable, the album as a whole never loses its punch.

Favorite Tracks: “Don’t Buy the Realistic”, “Nefarious”, “The Government Darling”

A Series of Sneaks (1998)

220px-ASeriesOfSneaksA Series of Sneaks is the Spoon album that has never resonated with me. The words “sophomore slump” come to mind. A Series of Sneaks has always felt too terse, despite being only a minute shorter than its predecessor.

It wasn’t until this review that I even realized my two favorite songs on the album were only featured on the 2002 rerelease. Those tracks being the swaying pop ballad, “Laffitte Don’t Fail Me Now” and the lo-fi “The Agony of Laffitte”. The rest of the album is made up of tracks that barely crack two minutes. It’s as if I’m just starting to absorb a song and then it’s over. All in all A Series of Sneaks isn’t bad, it’s serviceable but never has a breakout moment. Now that we have that out of the way it’s all up hill from here.

Favorite Tracks: “The Agony of Laffitte”, “Car Radio”, “Lafitte Don’t Fail Me Now”

Girls Can Tell (2001)

girls-can-tellGirls Can Tell marked a smooth transition for Spoon from garage rock to alternative pop and in many ways established the “sound” that Spoon would become popular for. The approach is lean and the progression basic without ever lacking inspiration.

One addition that sets Girls Can Tell apart from other Spoon releases is its understated but memorable use of jangly keyboards. Everything is in its place just the right amount for a perfect span of time. Highlights include the fan favorite, “Anything You Want” and one of my top ten favorite Spoon cuts, “Me and the Bean”. The tempo is relaxed, the mood is chill, and the experience is unforgettable.

Favorite Tracks: “Anything You Want”, “Everything Hits at Once”, “Me and the Bean”

Kill the Moonlight (2002)

Kill_the_MoonlightSome might say Kill the Moonlight is where Spoon went from being good to great. Though I’d give that distinction to Girls Can Tell, Kill the Moonlight definitely deserves recognition as Spoon’s most innovative album to date. “Minimalism” is a word often associated with Spoon and it doesn’t get more stripped down than this. Take the album’s opening track, “Small Stakes”. Who would’ve thunk all you need to make a great pop song is a buzzy keyboard, vocals, and some loose percussion. The bold starkness of that track carries through on other numbers like “Paper Tiger” and my favorite “Stay Don’t Go”. Try and listen to that song and tell me you don’t instantly love it.

But Kill the Moonlight isn’t without radio-friendly singles. The first time I became of aware of Spoon was hearing, “The Way We Get By” in the trailer to that Will Ferrell movie where he found out he was a character in a book… You know, Zoolander.

Favorite Tracks: “All the Pretty Girls Go to the City”, “Stay Don’t Go”, “The Way We Get By”

Gimme Fiction (2005)

Spoon_Gimme_FictionMy brain convinced me that Gimme Fiction is Spoon’s most mainstream effort. I’m not sure if the data and facts prove that to be true but who cares about facts? You can use facts to prove anything that’s even remotely true. I don’t mean to say sounding mainstream is a negative, in fact (even though facts are meaningless), Spoon handles “mainstream” well… A little too well. “I Turn My Camera” is primed for the dance floor and still one of Spoon’s most accessible cuts. “My Mathematical Mind” is good trailer music, especially if it’s about card playing geniuses.”Sister Jack” is a beautifully sincere pop effort and “I Summon You” was Stephen King’s favorite song of 2005. How can you top that?

Favorite Tracks: “I Summon You”, “Merchants of Soul”, “Sister Jack”

Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (2007)

spoonWhat is there to say? It’s one of my favorite albums of all time. It has three powerhouse singles and seven other songs that are just as catchy and innovative as anything Spoon has ever recorded. “The Underdog” is what draws most people in with its infectious rally of horns. For me it was Spoon’s cover of “Don’t You Evah”, originally performed by Natural History. The bassline is hypnotic and Daniel’s voice cuts like a knife. The tracks flow so seamlessly in style and the setting is both moody and optimistic. It covers so much in such a little amount of time. It’s masterful.

Favorite Tracks: “Don’t Make Me a Target”, “Don’t You Evah”, “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb”

Transference (2010)

220px-TransferenceI knew going into Transference that nothing would top Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga and I was content with that. Sometimes I wonder if Spoon knew that. Was Transference just an opportunity to dick around? I say that because the album doesn’t flow nearly as well as its predecessor. The mood is experimental much in the same way as Kill the Moonlight but with better production value. “Who Makes Your Money?” and “The Mystery Zone” are polished reverb soaked songs while “Before Destruction” and “Trouble Comes Running” both wade in lo-fi waters. The album’s singles should have been a good indicator of what was in store here. “Got Nuffin” is grinding, repetitive rocker with not much in the way of a chorus. The same could all be said for the jarring “Written in Reverse”. Both are admirable but nonetheless stand as Spoon’s least accessible singles.

Favorite Tracks: “Before Destruction”, “Is Love Forever?”, “Trouble Comes Running”.

What could come next? If Pitchfork serves me right, good things. Check back later this week for my review of They Want My Soul.

  1. This is probably a good time and place to mention that “street tar in summer will do a job on your soul” is one of my favorite lyrics ever. And yeah, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is the truth.

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