The second I mentioned the new Spoon album, my friend Mary laughed and pulled out the pitchfork quote everyone has used: "They're just the poor man's Billy Joel." Despite the infectious wit and self-indulgent puffery of Pitchfork, I disagreed. With "The Way We Get By," I disagreed. With "The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine." Even when a Jaguar ad featured "I Turn My Camera On," I stood by the musical integrity of Britt Daniels and crew, if only for "Girls Can Tell."
I could never understand the derision. When Spoon released Telefono, they were looked at as the heir to the Pixies' mantle. Mention that connection today and you'll get spit on. Nothing of their earlier, rougher sound survives after "A Series of Sneaks." Once Elektra dropped them from their label, they turned towards the pop rock drawing board and charted their way into every indie kid's play list, if only a few songs at a time.
However, their validity in the indie world has been challenged from time to time, especially with "Gimme Fiction" and the mid-album dive into throw away rock like "Sister Jack." The album starts out with a sharp bite, and ends with corked teeth. For such reasons, the indie music community looks at an album title like ga ga ga ga ga and stands ready to pounce. Well, I can only hope Pitchfork isn't that imposing. After all, the hailed an group of Ace of Base knock-offs as having the best album of the year. Give me a break.
Thankfully, after Ga ga ga ga ga, I feel justified in my defense.
"Don't Make me a Target" checks in with the basics - guitar, bass and drums - before slowly intensifying. Daniel's spits lyrics that suspiciously sound aimed at the Bush administration. If they aren't, they're at least appropriate.
Here come a man from the stars/ we don't know why he goes so far/ keeps on marching along, beating his drum ... When you reach back in his mind/ feels like he's breaking the law/ there's something back there he's got that nobody knows. He never claimed to say what he says/ smells like the insides of closets and stairs, the kind where nobody goes.If that didn't solidify the point, Daniel's quickly follows his under-the-breath condemnations with a pointed demand: "Don't Make me a Target." While this sort of lyrical unrest continues throughout the album, the instrumentation and rhythm changes from song to song.
From this sinister strut, Daniels throws us violently into "The Ghost of you Lingers," a desperate pounding of piano chords, off key at first, then taking flight with Daniels vocals, who has applied so much reverb as to suggest he recorded the vocals out of his own body. Daniels sings as a man torn asunder, with multiple voices pleading for restoration. It's an ethereal track, and stands in stark contrast to the pop instrumentation of the rest of this album. However, the lyrics follow a theme of frustration and division.
"You've Got Yr Cherry Bomb" throws another curve, invoking 60's style pop (the chimes at the beginning almost reminded me of Motown) and an upbeat driving beat complete with horns and bubblegum intentions.
The roller coaster of moods continues as "Don't you Evah" and "Rhthm and Soul" set a steady beat and groove. This sounds like a safe and familiar territory, until descending into "Eddie's Ragga." Here, Daniels laments his tortured relationship with a lover, going back between wide-eyed contentment and isolation. The sinister bass work peering from behind the occasional stabs of guitar enhances Daniel's despondent and resigned lyrics.
"The Underdog" almost seems triumphant in comparison, with a the fierce acoustic strumming explodes into a blossoming of trumpets, as if spring has broken free from winter. Yet, this isn't a rousing anthem, but a warning regarding not heeding warnings: "But you won't hear from the messenger/don't want to know about something that you don't understand/you have no fear of the underdog/that's why you will not survive." It can be taken as a shot toward Bush, toward Elektra, perhaps toward the music industry. Whoever the target, it still cuts deep. Needless to say, it's an expertly crafted pop song with a clear message, something lacking in pop songs, in general.
The album's last three are just as solid tunes, but nothing groundbreaking. "Finer Feelings" laments over true love and commercial appeal with a welcome re-entry of light distortion and a steady-beat (although there is a brief interlude in the song that seems unnecessary). "My Little Japanese Cigarette Case" remains brief and to the point, with flourishes of zithers and piano trills.
By the time "Black Like Me" roles around, Daniel's asks his departing audience for someone to take care of him tonight. It will have seemed too quick. Daniel's may have lashed out at everyone around him, beat himself up and lamented his position, but he's already looking for recovery. What's more, you might be hitting replay, as the album blasts by in only 36 minutes and ends with abrupt silence.
Not a second is wasted, not a track is filler. Certainly, Spoon only needed that much time to prove they're a few steps above Gimme Fiction. Or "Uptown Girl," for that matter.
Interpol, later today.