Spoon serve as a middle ground, an accessible version of indie rock harboring all of the influences of classic rock, with a sound that constantly strives to sound modern. If you take any one of their albums on its own merits, you would have the “sound” of rock n roll for that present year. It is hard to put them in a genre, besides rock music, but they do what they do very well. The band always alternates between emotional, rocking, soft, and heartfelt. They are a band that truly has evolved, and though they were always rather popular for an independent band, they were one of the first “indie” band’s to breakthrough in the first decade of the 2000’s- along with Arcade Fire, The White Stripes, and The Strokes, they brought indie rock to the front and center of mainstream radio. Part of being part of a zeitgeist is just luck I guess, but they deserve all the credit they get, being one of the most consistent bands to come out of the late 1990’s. At nearly 10 albums in, they have yet to make a bad record, which is saying a lot. Their reputation can do nothing but get better and better.
Britt Daniel- Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards
Jim Eno – Drums, percussion
Josh Zarbo – Bass (1997 – 2007)
Rob Pope – Bass, guitar (2006 – current)
Alex Fischel – Keyboards, Guitar (2013 – current)
Girls Can Tell
Pixies, The Beatles, Elvis Costello, The Cars, Prince, Can, Blur, The Rolling Stones
1996 – (3 / 5) – Telephono
1998 – (4.5 / 5) – A Series of Sneaks
2001 – (5 / 5)+ – Girls Can Tell
2002 – (5 / 5)– Kill the Moonlight
2005 – (3.5 / 5) – Gimme Fiction
2007 – (4.5 / 5) – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
2010 – (3 / 5) – Transference
2014 – (4 / 5) – They Want My Soul
2017 – (2.5 / 5) – Hot Thoughts
Telephono – (3 / 5)
Spoon sure got off to a great start as far as energy goes. Every song on here kind of speeds by in a very enjoyable way. Opener “Don’t Buy the Realistic” jumps out and sticks with you; “Cvantez” proves the band can do a hell of an emotional ballad; songs like “Neferious”, “Towner” and “Dismember” have great parts that point to a hopeful future (great melodies and harmonies, though sometimes there is bit of hard rock posturing). Other great moments include the instrumental “Theme to Wendel Stivers” which showcases the strong rhythm section of Jim Eno and Josh Zarbo and the closer “Plastic Mylar”, an album closer that is bound to keep its chorus in your head for days. It’s a half good / half mediocre album, and the main thing that doesn’t work is too many advanced tempo shifts and jerky rhythms for band that has yet to find it’s sound
Just like the kings of the quiet-loud-quiet alternative rock sound, Pixies, Spoon tries to make their own version of a hard hitting punk debut album a la Surfer Rosa, and it is a bit obvious. “Government Darling” is the best example of this, trying to use the same trick as Surfer Rosa’s “River Euphrates” but not working near as well, not to mention the forced screaming of “Claws Tracking”, where Britt Daniel’s forced screams get a little in the way of themselves. A couple on tunes are quite awful as well, as “Wanted to be Your” and “Primary” could have been left on the cutting room floor. Despite nit picking everything, Telephono is an often intriguing listen and definitely a promising one, but it hasn’t quite got the consistency of a good record yet. The lack of diversity can come across a bit “same sounding” but even if a whole 14 song album doesn’t quite work yet, a lot of it does.
Greatest Songs: Cvantez, Plastic Mylar, Don’t Buy the Realistic, Theme to Wendel Stivers
A Series of Sneaks – (4.5 / 5)
Spoon’s second album is their leap into greatness, an album that fulfills the promise of Telephono’s best songs (“Plastic Mylar”, “Cvantez”). There is not a moment when the album doesn’t command the room as Spoon are truly a force to be reckoned with. There is pure punk-pop in “Car Radio”, “Utilitarian”, and “Quincy Punk Episode”, all of which super catchy while showcasing Daniel’s odd song topics. Mostly though, the album is littered with songs that reach for the stars by expanding the band’s sound and enriching it. “Metal Detektor” is more than a ballad, it’s a soul-searching road anthem and one of my personal favorite songs of that kind; “Minor Tough”, “Guestlist/Execution” and “No, your Not” have enough twists and turns for multiple songs each while rocking you out in a early 1980’s new wave way via The Cars debut album. “Chloroform” and “Advance Cassette” show off new influences in the lo-fi catchiness of Guided by Voices and Abbey Road era Beatles. “30 Gallon Tank” may represent the sound of the band at their most involving, as there is hardly a repeated idea or normal structure to the tune, just a vast display of different sonic tapestry.
Drummer Jim Eno (also the band’s go to engineer and producer) shines on many of these songs, becoming more than just a drummer – the MVP in the band. There is not a moment when the drums are not center stage and the way Eno plays them is not the background of the songs internal focus. Some tunes such as “Reservations” and “Metal School” expand on different types of ideas also explored on the debut but are better executed here, as the atmosphere and atmospherics of Daniel’s guitar playing are more controlled and given more room to breathe. There is enough variety in the album between rockers and ballads to keep it varied throughout its already brief listen, unlike Telephono’s struggle to listen all the way through without turning skipping multiple tracks. There are some lesser spots, as “June’s Foreign Spell” and “Starting on the Board” kind of lag, but in all the songs contained on Series of Sneaks point the way to a great future for an ever-evolving band.
Greatest Songs: Metal Detektor, 30 Gallon Tank, The Guestlist/The Execution, The Minor Tough
Girls Can Tell – (5 / 5)+
Spoon continues to grow by leaps and bounds on Girls Can Tell, as their 3rd album is the strongest yet and one of the masterpieces of 21st century pop music. Fusing the harmonies of The Beatles (“Lines in the Suit), the jerky rhythms of Talking Heads (“Take A Walk”), and Liz Phair’s approach to atmosphere (“Chicago At Night”), Girls Can Tell is a tour de force of sophisticated songcraft. Each song is an observation on a state of mind – feeling down and out, stuck in bad relationships, working shitty jobs, and pondering life in general. It takes multiple listens to absorb and comprehend all of the everyday topics reflected over classic rock archetypes such as Led Zeppelin at their most stripped down and basic.
Some songs make powerful repetitive points like the mantra repeated in the chorus of “Believing is Art”, the melodrama of the pounding piano bass lines of “Anything You Want” (as perfect as pop ballads get), the ethereal and mostly acoustic bed-side romance of “10:20 a.m.”. Others just groove along in a super melodic fashion that shows how important a great rhythm section can be, exemplified in the album opener “Everything Hits at Once”. The band unleashes its best tune to date, “Me and the Bean”, creating a yearning and thoughtful account of a love lost that will hopefully sprout again. The words of the song bring the listener to a powerful emotional climax by stating, “Do you remember when you were small / how everyone else seemed so tall / I am the shadow in the dark / I have your blood inside my heart.” Also, the instrumental skill of every member show up in their best non-vocal track, “This Book is a Movie”, exploring a jazz side of the band that proves the band could jam out for hours at this point if they chose.
“The Fitted Shirt” is literally about Daniel inheriting used clothes from his father, but it is portrayed as a defining statement and with that much clout, the tune could be about marching off to war and still work as an anthem (was this a purposeful attempt at a ridiculous song topic be used in a contradictory way?). “Take A Walk” and “Take the Fifth” are similar, nonsensical lyrical conundrums, and I feel what many people look at as a weakness in the wordsmith of Britt Daniel may actually be a legitimate attempt by the band to normalize everyday situations and redefine the way a story is told through the backdrop of a rock song. Before writing this idea off, I encourage you to re-listen to the album in its entirety and decide for yourself. In many ways, Girls Can Tell puts all of life on display in a snow globe of scrutiny.
The point of all this is that Girls Can Tell works because the band believes in what its doing, and main songwriter Britt Daniel’ confidence shines though as Spoon constantly evolves. They are no longer reinterpreting older rock n’ roll clichés through their own eyes but inventing a whole new canvas with which to paint on. Wherever the band goes to form here (each album leading up to this one has been a step in the right direction) there is no doubt in my mind that it will be hard to make an album this consistently perfect again. Here’s hoping, but treasures like Girls Can Tell are true diamonds in the rough.
Greatest Songs: Me and The Bean, Anything You Want, The Fitted Shirt, Lines in the Suit
Kill the Moonlight – (5 / 5)
Spoon’s Kill the Moonlight is a trip in styles. You’d think after Girls Can Tell they would be out of ideas, but they keep getting more and more infatuated with every kind of genre. It works unsurprisingly (the band has always been good at this), and again Spoon has crafted songs that sound like nothing else the world has ever heard. Where Girls Can Tell was a perfection of old fashioned rock music done as perfectly as possible while also forging a new kind of song for the new millennium, here the band uses various sound effects that propel the band’s sound further into the future to make danceable, thought provoking songs. The results are incredible: “Jonathan Fisk” pays tribute to a Sonic Youth style noise jam played at double speed; “Stay Don’t Go” reminds us of Roxy Music at their prime with just as much emotion; “The Way We Get By” is just plain awesome in only the way Spoon can be, promoting a relaxed outlook on life.
The album only has a couple of songs that stutter: “All the Pretty Girls” sounds like it borrowed the riff and template from “A Girl Like You” by Edwyn Collins’ 1995 hit, and “You Gotta Feel It” is one short little song too many and sounds a little weary. The album is still a masterwork of sorts though, it is kind of hard to say why – it differs GREATLY from Girls Can Tell as it expands the band’s sound to a more “accessible” kind of rock music (the previous album is much harder to penetrate). Suffice to say the silly but touching “Someone Something”, the backwards loops applied in the keyboard driven “Paper Tiger”, and quirky, punchy tunes like “Don’t Let it Get You Down” and “Back to the Life” would not have been possible from old Spoon records, and the band has obtain a kind of perfect of sound. Kill the Moonlight is fairly short, about 35 minutes, but it doesn’t seem like it goes by too fast. Instead, people are left with the catchy tunes that are very insightful and it is a place worth visiting several times over in one road trip if possible! Probably the band’s most enjoyable’ record and one that is so laid back that it hides its greatness, exemplified in the epic closer “Vittorio”.
Greatest Songs: Something to Look Forward Too, Stay Don’t Go, Vittorio, Paper Tiger
Gimme Fiction – (3.5 / 5)
Gimme Fiction served as the band’s breakout record in terms of sales, but the record itself sinks under the weight of its singles. For example, as a whole it pales in comparison to their last three: Series of Sneaks, Girls Can Tell, and Kill the Moonlight (don’t believe the hype, get any of those first!). That said, the first four songs on here point to a new direction for the band and they are all phenomenal: the opener “Beast and Dragon Adored” is futuristic and stripped down, setting the album’s ambience as perhaps the darkest yet; “The Two Sides” of Monsieur Valentine” uses a string quartet to create a moving ballad of one of Daniel’s most heartfelt stories; “I Turn My Camera On” is pure Prince meets Mick Jagger, trying to recreate The Rolling Stones disco era tune “Miss You” for the 21st century; the futuristic sound effects that populate “My Mathematical Mind” is perhaps the high point of the band’s catalogue so far. If the band would have kept up the hit ratio of these fantastic openers, it would have been another classic Spoon album.
However, something happens on the later part of the record where the band doesn’t really lose its focus as much as it refuses to meet the high standard of the first four songs. “The Delicate Place” is not an bad song, but it loses its focus halfway through and just kind of repeats itself, where as the same could be said for the half-assed sing along “Sister Jack”- not awful but a bit generic. Album closer “Merchants of Soul” is a piano stomping tune in league with the band’s opening salvo of greatness (Spoon is always good to end on a solid note), but “I Summon You” through “They Never Got You” is completely forgettable and it hurts the record as a whole. Another thing that makes this album not one of the groups best is that its basic, electro/techno flavor is a bit dated and completely unnecessary when you have a drummer as good as Jim Eno. Gimme Fiction is an obvious bid for popularity to me, and though it doesn’t live up to the band’s high standards of excellence, it’s still an interesting artifact in this great band’s career.
Greatest Songs: My Mathematical Mind, The Beast and Dragon Adored, Merchants of Soul, I Turn My Camera On
Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga – (4.5 / 5)
This album may not have the highs of 2005’s Gimme Fiction, but it also doesn’t have the lows. What we are left with is a less experimental album that takes every awkward noise moment the band has made in the past and condenses it into normal rock songs. This is the most accessible Spoon album yet, as well as one of the best. The conciseness makes it an easy listen and it is nice to see the band in laid back form on many tracks as the previous record tried a bit too hard to ‘please’ the listener. It’s literally all over the place, with more instruments ever tried on a Spoon record before. The trio of blasters in the middle – “Rhythm and Soul”, “Don’t You Evah”, and “Eddie’s Ragga” – absolutely shine as some of the grooviest songs the band ever did. “The Ghost of You Lingers”, the only experimental track with Phillip Glass-like piano repetition is the album’s best song, showing off how the minimal explorations of Kill the Moonlight has expanded out to a new kind of rock music; “You Got that Cherry Bomb” is pure bliss showing off the excitement of life, though it is obviously about the end of a relationship; “Finer Feelings” features the best set of lyrics about, you guessed it, failing at attempting to be too commercial on the last record; genius closer “Black Like Me” with is Paul McCartney-style “Hey Jude” ending could have been twice as long and still work.
A couple of the tracks on the latter half, “My Japanese Cigarette Holder” and “The Underdog”, don’t quite work for me, though the latter is notable for its use of a brilliant sounding horn section (“You Got That Cherry Bomb” incorporated it better though). Other notable differences on GA GA GA GA GA compared to prior Spoon records are an emphasis on Zarbo’s bass playing, lyrics about selling out, electronic samples interrupting the flow of the songs, and a sense of fun and freedom throughout. Honestly, taking the best of this and Gimme Fiction would have resulted in a truly great record instead of two merely good ones, but this album really just puts you in the mood to sit back and enjoy life like Kill the Moonlight did (KTM part two perhaps?). It stands as some kind of summery after ten years of being a band, I’d say a good one, but I’m hopeful they’ll learn toward something more experimental next time – for now just dance along.
Greatest Songs: The Ghost of You Lingers, Rhythm and Soul, Black Like Me, Don’t You Evah
Transference – (3 / 5)
Transference is more of the same from Spoon, but that is hardly a bad thing. After the amazing ten-year album run from 1998 to 2007, who could blame them for sounding a bit worn out? In fact, it is a very immediate record, and it is only upon re-listening several times when one realizes any possible weaknesses. Spoon does plenty of things well by this point in their career: the pounding, martial tempos of “Is Love Forever” and “Written in Reverse” as well as the tense atmosphere of “Got Nuffin” (a sort of update of Steve Winwood’s “Gimme Some Lovin’” for the 2000’s) and “The Mystery Zone”, the latter of which effortlessly brings strings and computerized sound effects to a mind-bending song with a plethora of melodic tricks.
The problem is, about half of the record doesn’t work, whether it’s the Beatles-esque “Goodnight Laura” or the overly repetitive slogan in “Who Makes Your Money”. Some tunes are too full of ideas and rely on production too much (“Written in Reverse”) or contain abrupt shifts in structure (“I Saw the Light”, which is a great song until the padded out ending jam that elongates the song unnecessarily). Not to mention the awful closer “Nobody Gets Me But You” and forgettable tracks like “Out go the Lights” which are the epitome of ‘generic’. When the band concentrates on short, punchy songs full of creative guitar work everything works just fine, but the overall feel of this record seems tired and worn out and it is hard to shake. Spoon will need to tighten up on future releases in order to live up to their own glorious past standards, as Transference is only for the die-hard fans to purchase.
Greatest Songs: The Mystery Zone, Got Nuffin, Is Love Forever
They Want My Soul – (4 / 5)
After Britt Daniel had a brief stint in The Divine Fits, which to be honest sounded a lot like a Spoon b-sides group, he returned to front his own band and the return to form is noticeable. The album does have most of it’s success in the first half (nothing new there) with “Rent I Pay” showing off those huge Dave Friedman drums that the producer is so famous for. “Inside Out” is a bold second song, being longer than most Spoon tracks at over 5 minutes as well as being a subtle, shifting moody piece that adds more and more to each subsequent listen. “Rainy Day” is one of the band’s best tunes, with the new addition of keyboardist Alex Fischel showing off his absurdist chops by randomly beating on the piano halfway though and updating the bands minimalist sound even further. “Do You” is the upbeat single that the band can do with their eyes closed at this point, and “Outlier” finally finds a way to make the techno/electric beats the bands so much to good use (an interview I saw with Britt Daniel stated the music to this tune was written without him by the band and then he added lyrics only, a rarity knowing that the majority of the music of Spoon is written entirely by Daniel).
The remainder of the record is hardly bad, as “Knock Knock is a pleasant novelty a la Gimme Fiction’s “Sister Jack” and the title track harks back to past songs of the early days of the band in a traditional ballad. The bluesy “I Just Don’t Understand” and acoustic “Let Me Be Mine” are not what the band does best, and perhaps should have been reworked arrangement wise (different experimental arrangements for the same types of songs are what Spoon DOES in a nutshell) but closer “New York Kiss” does push the band back in the right direction, being one of the groups more futuristic, new wave outings. While They Want My Soul does not do a lot to push the band’s sound in an optimistic direction, it is still a great return to form and proves the bands staying power.
Greatest Songs: Rainy Day, Inside Out, Outlier, Rent I Pay
Hot Thoughts – (2.5 / 5)
The band’s first mediocre album, though it is still not too bad. There are some tunes worth saving, as the atmosphere of “First Caress” and “Whisper I’ll Listen to Hear It” are worth hearing and could make it big as singles, though the latter sound more like it should be a Divine Fits song. “Do I Have to Talk You Into It” and “Hot Thoughts” are decent, but kinda Spoon-by-numbers. But the fact that the band has not pushed their sound forward in a successful way since 2007 is starting to show as there is not enough material here to recommend a higher than below average rating.
Greatest Songs: First Caress, Whisper I’ll Listen to Hear It, Do I Have to Talk You Into It
Spoon have a lot of fun extras and singles, including a version of The Cramps “Tv Set” (2015) and the b-sides to singles that aren’t found many other places. “The Agony of Laffitte” and “Laffitte Don’t Fail Me Now” are appendages to 1998’s Series of Sneaks released a year later and chronicles their parting from their old band manager when he had a huge fallout with the band; evidently it almost stopped them in their creative tracks completely (thank god they kept going and we got Girls Can Tell a couple years later, one of the all-time great records in my opinion!). There were also a couple of EP’s (1997’s Soft Effect and 2000’s Love Ways) that have their moments. It’s the age of the internet and Spotify, so I will just highlight the best songs I have heard recorded by Spoon that are not on albums:
“Mountain to Sound” – Soft Effects EP
“I Could See the Dude” – Soft Effects EP
“Loss Leaders” – Soft Effects EP
“The Agony of Laffitte” – Agony OF Laffitte EP
“Laffitte Don’t Fail Me Now” – Agony of Laffitte EP
“Jealousy” – Love Ways EP
“The Figures of Art” – Love Ways EP
“Chips and Dip” – Love Ways EP
“All I Got Is Me” – Don’t You Evah Single B-side
“Stroke Their Brains” – Got Nuffin B-Side
“Tv Set” – 2015 single