Sunday, April 18, 2010

Spoon - Transference

Rating: B-

Like many indie rock fans, I have bands I root for. I want to like their albums. I buy their new offerings when they come out, not even reading reviews first. If the reviews are negative, I am more inclined to trust the artist than the reviewer and give it another listen. There are only a handful of bands in this category for me and Spoon is one.

Why do I like Spoon so much? Is it lead singer Britt Daniel? The New York Times once described Daniel's voice as "like a British guy with a Southern accent and a cold, which means he sounds like a rock star, only more so." Is it their cool, minimal, angular grooves? Is it the blacked-out-hung-over way I found their CD Gimme Fiction in my CD collection with no memory of how it got there? And then the same thing happened with Kill the Moonlight? How can one not feel fated to love a band after that?

Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, the band's 2007 release, was the poppiest and most approachable yet. Rather than using their gifts for repetitive percussion, snarled vocals with cryptic lyrics, and jagged guitar lines to bring us into a seedy uncomfortable place like on many of their earlier efforts, they used them to pump us up, augmented by brass ("The Underdog," "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb"), or John Cougar Mellencamp-style handclaps ("Dont You Evah," "Finer Feelings"). It was a great pop album with terrific variety, ranging from the political "Don't Make Me a Target" to the haunting "The Ghost of You Lingers" to the inspiring "Underdog" to "Black Like Me," maybe the band's most vulnerable moment yet.

Transference is something of a retreat after Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. In that way, it's similar to Wilco's most recent effort, Wilco (The Album), another more straight-ahead endeavor after more experimental albums. But where Wilco seemed a summing up of Wilco's recent past, tying them not just to their prior work but also to musical history, Transference just seems like Spoon going back to the well. The songs feel like B-Sides to prior albums - opener "Before Destruction" could slot right between any of the tracks on Girls Can Tell. "Is Love Forever" would fit nicely on Kill the Moonlight. "The Mystery Zone" is one of the album's strongest tracks (despite a bizarre abrupt mid-word cutoff), but it also feels like it was yanked out of Gimme Fiction.

Which isn't to say there aren't strong moments. "Written In Reverse" is catchy as all hell, builds well into a blistering guitar solo, then surprises with a fake ending. "I Saw the Light" features a great instrumental outro, keyed by a Count-Basie-minimalist piano part. These are the only songs that deliver on the spaced-out vibe suggested by their December show I saw. Well, "Nobody Gets Me But You," but it's just kinda boring. But hell, it is a Spoon album - Daniel's voice and angular guitar, catchy rhythms, an air of dirty mystery. But if you're not into Spoon, you can skip this, and if you're not familiar, there are better places to start.

Buy it from Amazon:
Spoon Official Site

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