Thursday, January 28, 2010

That Great Motown Sound...


Spoon have always been about the sound.

Calm down. I'm not saying that's all they have going for them. Far from it. We're talking about one of my favourite bands of the last decade; I assure you, it doesn't boil down purely to their sound. They have airtight songs from Britt Daniels. They have Britt Daniels' uncanny ability to emote anything with a few choice words. They have Britt Daniels' voice. Mostly, they have Britt Daniels. But they also have Jim Eno, a drummer who's understatement is by far his greatest attribute. And the two of them together are remarkable as an engineering team. After Eno's production of "The Underdog" on their last offering, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Spoon decided to break off from the rest of the world, and recorded this one on their own. The results are very good, and very Spoon.

To start off with, Transference is not Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. But this isn't surprising; no two Spoon albums are the same, nor do any of them try to be. Series of Sneaks was a hungry, young band. Girls Can Tell was a suave, new-wave influenced band playing around with a less toothy sound. Kill the Moonlight was a band, finally convinced of their sound, stripping everything down to the support beams. Gimme Fiction was darker, and more full-sounding. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga was a culmination of all that; it featured the tightest songs, the best lyrics, the best arrangements. It was, simply put, the best Spoon have offered, and will likely remain so. I'm okay with that.

The first half of Transference is sloppy and aggressive. "Written in Reverse" has been on the radio for a few weeks now, and you may well be familiar with its clumsy, gripping piano riff. The second half of the record (it's easy for me to do this; I've only listened to it on vinyl so far, and what's nice is that it is really divided to work that way, much like Gimme Fiction) is much more gentle, with "Goodnight Laura" being perhaps the loveliest thing Spoon have ever offered. Most of the record, however, goes by without a strong sense of form. Or, at least, with as little a sense of form as these guys will allow. The songs start to bleed together around the edges, resulting in an album that probably wouldn't work well divided up.

But this is not such a bad thing, and Spoon have always been about the album. Sure, they write impeccable singles too, but they've never focused on that so much as the broader tapestry. This is best exemplified when "Got Nuffin," the albums most ferocious track, comes roaring out of the gentle wreckage of the second side of the record. It reminds us where we've been in the last thirty or so minutes, before giving away to "Nobody Gets Me But You," a great Spoon closer as they always are. The song rides a groove with a melancholy progression while Daniels espouses the title in a way I've come to believe only he is capable of doing.

So, this is not Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. Consider yourself warned. This is not about the songs. Spoon have always been about the sound, and that's what this is.

No comments: