News Column

The New Review: Critics: ALBUM REVIEWS: Another Spoon full, but it's never sweet enough: ALBUM OF THE WEEK Spoon They Want My Soul (ANTI-)

August 3, 2014

Phil Mongredien



While they might be a niche concern on this side of the Atlantic, in their home country, Texan five-piece Spoon are as big as it's possible for an alt-rock band on an indie label to get. Their last album, 2010's Transference, reached No 4 in the US, while its predecessor also made the Top 10. Such success is all the more impressive when achieved by the increasingly unfashionable combination of solid songwriting and hard work (although a breakthrough in the mid-00s was partly due to their song The Way We Get By making it on to the soundtracks for the movie Stranger Than Fiction and TV series The OC

Since the early setback of an acrimonious split with Elektra in 1998, they've delivered a string of meticulously conceived albums. Refracted through a prism of hip-hop and R&B dynamics, their streamlined songs are masterclasses in clipped precision. Imagine, essentially, a less indie-dancefloor-filling Black Keys. A remarkable run of form is reflected in the fact that in 2010 website Metacritic calculated that Spoon's albums were the most consistently positively reviewed by professional critics of any artist between 2000 and 2009, outperforming the likes of Radiohead, OutKast and the White Stripes. Even Limp Bizkit.

As a result, their first album in four years comes buoyed with expectation. The highly regarded Dave Fridmann (Tame Impala, the Flaming Lips, MGMT) has been drafted in on production duties, the first time the band has used an outside producer, and claims were made that They Want My Soul would be their "loudest and gnarliest" album to date. That may well be true. But it seems to fall slightly short of the extremely high standards they've set themselves.

It isn't that there is anything desperately wrong: there are no radical departures in sound; its clever instrumentation still rewards careful listening; the interplay between frontman Britt Daniel's simple guitar lines and drummer Jim Eno's clever yet unshowy rhythms is as strong as ever. But although there are plenty of strong verses, the choruses, almost without exception, smoulder instead of igniting. Place these songs next to past glories such as You Got Yr Cherry Bomb or Sister Jack and there's a glaring lack of immediacy. While there is much to enjoy here, it certainly doesn't reveal itself readily.

It's not a fatal flaw: Outlier is sublime, from its unashamedly pop intro to its bruised, mournful verse and brooding fade-out, with its hints of the understated yet emotionally charged AOR of Blue Oyster Cult's beautiful Shooting Shark. Knock, Knock, Knock pits whistling against carefully deployed guitar-noise scree yet still sounds compelling, once you get past the fact that Daniel's voice, always a little rasping, suddenly sounds exactly like that of Lee Mavers of the La's.

Elsewhere, Rainy Taxi has an appealing tautness, a lyric borrowed from Bowie's Let's Dance and a propulsive urgency, and the radio-friendly title track could be a long-lost Elvis Costello number. Rent I Pay, however, lifts its stuttering riff from Strange by fellow masters of minimalism Wire, yet fails to take it anywhere interesting. And that's symptomatic of They Want My Soul as a whole: it promises much but never quite delivers.

Captions:

'Solid songwriting and hard work': Texas alt-rockers Spoon. Tom Hines



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Source: Observer (UK)


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