August 30, 2007

Ga Ga Ga Great! Record Review: Spoon

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Spoon used to be an acquired taste. So, if you remember that time you stole that first beer from the fridge back when you were fourteen, and took it to the backyard only to spit it out all over Mom’s gardenias (and somewhat on Bobby-the-neighbor kid’s Kid Rock t-shirt), then you can probably understand that concept.
Spoon’s repertoire is kind of like that: Their music is great, addictive, but doesn’t go down so well on the first try.
When Spoon’s last album Gimme Fiction replaced Modest Mouse’s latest as my car’s default soundtrack, my carless ride-bumming friends were consistently piqued by the unsettling notes of “The Beast and Dragon Adored” and the like. For me, it took about eleven months to acclimate myself to the sound even after I saw them live the previous summer. But after I hit my comfortable level of tolerance, I was hooked. I sat outside Robert Purcell Community Center with my iPod in a paper bag listening to Spoon from when I woke up in the late afternoon until the soft sounds of “I Summon You” lulled me to an unconscious stupor in the evenings.
Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, the band’s latest album — named for the sound the piano makes on the second track, and probably because after five albums, the foursome largely doesn’t give a shit what you think about their record’s titles — the band has struck a chord that will appeal to anyone who rides in my car or scrapes me off the RPCC steps at midnight, and many more people than that as well. This is not to say that when they struck this chord that they didn’t still bang on the same one for three to four minutes and call it a song. That is, after all, what Spoon does. The difference now is that they arranged tambourines and maracas with pop beats and horn sections and harmonies all around the simple chord to make it both great minimalist rock and pop rock at the same time.
“You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb” is unequivocally the best music a ’60s girl group like The Ronettes or The Supremes would have sent straight to number one, except substitute the title for “My Boyfriend’s T-Bird” or “The Birds Sing My Love” or something else sans explosives in the title. Holland-Dozier-Holland must have taught everything they know about intro’s to Spoon’s mastermind Britt Daniel, because he certainly knows what to do with that piano and tambourine. Instead of the syrupy voice of Miss Ross, though, Mr. Daniel starts the song out in classic girl group style with the line “Life could be so fair, let it go on and on” — queue the three women in glitter-saturated evening gowns to be carted onto the stage (they can’t walk very fast in those form-fitted things what with the two-inch give, so carting is clearly the more expeditious option), making non-threatening arm movements and displaying minimal hip-shaking. This song and “The Underdog” are definitely the immediate hits of the bunch.
Spoon definitely did not completely desert what made their two latest albums so successful, though, which were explorations of the art and aural appeal that can come from the smallest amount of variation in sound. “Don’t Make Me a Target” is classic Spoon. It is a nice transition from Gimme Fiction to Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga and would fit well on either album, with its ominousness leading in from the last album and its catchiness coming from the new — listen to the handclaps in the bridge. It almost sounds like it was written in the spirit of Abbey Road-era John Lennon compositions like “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” Its repetitiousness is characteristically Spoon. “My Little Japanese Cigarette Case” certainly fits this mold, as does “Eddie’s Ragga,” which creates a nice little groove for itself thanks to Rob Pope’s bass.
Really, the band’s first single “The Underdog” sums up Spoon quite well. These guys have been quietly ascending to Pavement-like cult status during their 13-year career, and what they have to say to those in the industry who churn out the same derivative music all the time: “But I hear the call of a lifetime ring. Felt the need to get up for it and cut out the middleman. Get free from the middleman. You got no time for the messenger.
Got no regard for the thing that you don’t understand. You got no fear of the underdog. That’s why you will not survive!” Its safe to say that these four guys who make consistently good music year after year are the underdogs that have been surviving and thriving, and will continue to do so years after the Plain White T’s are done.
Nobody ever sat out on the RPCC steps listening to “Hey There Delilah” for hours. Case closed.