Introducing The Five-Plus Albums Test: Is Spoon The Most Consistently Great Rock Band Ever?

Cultural Critic
03.16.17 35 Comments

Matador Records

On Friday, Spoon will release its ninth album, Hot Thoughts. It’s really great. Of course it’s really great. This is what Spoon does — every three or four years, Britt Daniel produces another dozen or so songs and every single one of them is good. Everybody knows this. “Spoon” is practically synonymous among indie partisans with “consistency.” If you’ve ever read a Spoon album review, you also know that this is a “problem,” as it makes Spoon averse to convenient narratives for journalists. What can possibly be said that hasn’t already been said about a great band making another great record?

How about this: Most bands have one, maybe two phases. They start out as one thing, perhaps evolve into something else, and that’s it. At that point, the band either starts to fade, or it settles into a formula. Spoon, however, has had four different phases. It started out in the late ’90s with 1996’s Telephono and 1998’s A Series Of Sneaks, which marked an “indie-rock traditionalism” phase — this is a fancy way of saying that Spoon sounded a lot like the Pixies and Guided By Voices. Then, with 2001’s Girls Can Tell, Spoon shifted into a far more fruitful “indie-rock deconstructionist” phase, culminating with my personal favorite Spoon LP, 2003’s Kill The Moonlight, an austere masterwork in which the guitars, bass, and drums sound like they’ve been recorded on separate malfunctioning tape decks and then put together in slightly the wrong order. (But in a good way.)

The release of 2005’s Gimme Fiction heralded Spoon 3.0, the “indie-rock classic rock” phase, in which Daniel set about writing some of his catchiest, most straightforward, and ultimately most enduring songs. With 2007’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Spoon even flirted with mainstream popularity. But then Spoon capped this trilogy with its most polarizing release, 2010’s Transference, a dark, disorienting album in the mold of “the party is over” classics like the Rolling Stones’ Goats Head Soup and Pulp’s This Is Hardcore.

After Transference, it seemed like Spoon was going to enter the “fade away” portion of its career. But four years later, Spoon returned with They Want My Soul, which amazingly introduced Spoon 4.0 and the “indie rock after dark” phase. Like Soul, Hot Thoughts essentially discards the guitar and most other forms of rock convention for a groove-oriented approach that flirts with full-on funk and disco on a collection of bedroom indie-pop songs. While Daniel’s songwriting remains as sharp as ever, Hot Thoughts is primarily a “sounds” record, with a particular focus on Alex Fischel’s swirling keyboard textures and Jim Eno’s John Bonham-esque drum beats. For all his fidelity to rock history, Daniel is no purist — few indie musicians of his vintage are as willing or able to explore new sonic territory in such (here’s that word again) consistently engaging ways.

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