Sunday, May 20, 2007

My Perspective on Spoon...

If Britt Daniel lives in Portland, then why do I see him downtown almost as much as Leslie? I crossed paths with the Spoon frontman once again over the weekend at the White Denim gig at Beauty Bar, though I didn't even have time to mention that the new album sounds great. When I asked him at SXSW what he thinks of Portland, he just shrugged and said "I'm usually not able to spend a good amount of time there." Maybe the whole "relocation to Oregon" thing was simply a farce to keep overzealous groupies in the dark as to his whereabouts? I dunno.

Now that there is a new album (Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is out on July 10,) I feel compelled to compare it to the previous albums and rank them as I see fit. It's probably still way too early to compare the new album to the others, but after 3+ listens I put it as a close runner-up to Gimme Fiction.

Here is how I see it:

#1 - Kill The Moonlight

I think that few people would argue that Kill The Moonlight has been the best Spoon album thus far. It was released about a month after I moved to Austin, and I can recall first hearing it on one of the listening stations at Waterloo. It only took about two minutes of listening to "Small Stakes" before I said yep, this one is for me.

A few months later I saw them in concert for the first time, and this was still at a time when they would play the inside stage at Stubb's. In an odd encounter I met Britt Daniel the next day on an elevator inside the UT football stadium, while a copy of A Series of Sneaks was spinning on my laptop. True story.

#2 - A Series of Sneaks

If Pitchfork's reviews of Spoon albums supply a reliable barometer, then A Series of Sneaks is the album that is king of the hill. I would tend to agree, though Kill The Moonlight was where I got my start so it is tough to pick one over the other. Recorded in 1997 here in Austin, A Series of Sneaks in the most guitar-heavy Spoon we have heard, without any of the organ or piano work that became a pillar of the next three releases. The album has an interesting history, most noteably for first the Matador rerelease with the two Laffitte bonus tracks in 2002, after all the issues with the initial release by Elektra Records in 1998. If things had been handled right by Elektra's A&R representative Ron Laffitte and label CEO Sylvia Rhone, then a whole lot of people would've heard about Spoon long before the commercial success of Kill The Moonlight and Gimme Fiction.

As the story goes
, "Seeing the potential to sell records with an up-and-coming indie rock band, Elektra Records, along with A&R representative Ron Laffitte, signed Spoon to their first major record deal, which produced their much anticipated second LP, A Series of Sneaks. Unfortunately, after four months of low sales, Laffitte was fired and Spoon was ultimately dropped from Elektra. Angry with Laffitte (who had promised promotional funding) and the rest of the executives at Elektra, Spoon recorded a vindictively written two-song EP at Saddle Creek Records, immortalizing their broken deal. Britt and co. nails Mr. Laffitte with lyrics like: "It's like I knew two of you, man / The one before and after we shook hands," while telling him later in the chorus that he's no better than label CEO Sylvia Rhone."

All I ever asked of you is a copy of Garage Days and to tell me the truth
Ain't no one watching you exit Ventura Highway
It's like I knew two of you man
The one before and after we shook hands

Taking the calls but in all forgetting what's been said
And after dark in a cab in L.A.
Forget about the meter man these are salad days
Comes on the radio comes on and what's being said

Is you're no better than Sylvia
No better than Sylvia
No better than Sylvia
No better than Sylvia

Where you are and where you've been and where you've gone oh no
Here's a mark he's a mark on the page
Dishing out the wisdom of this reflexive age
Dotting the eyes with an eye for defining what you were

So when you do that line tonight
Remember that it came at a steep price
And keep telling yourself there's more to you than her
But you're no better than Sylvia
#3 - Gimme Fiction

Spoon hit the jackpot with this one. "I Turn My Camera On" was everywhere in 2005, with no small thanks going to Jaguar for the commercial spot. "The Two Sides Of Monsieur Valentine" and "The Beast And Dragon, Adored" are two of the best tracks they've ever laid down, and my only beef with Gimme Fiction was that they used a re-done studio version of "I Summon You." I much rather preferred the original demo version. That one and the "Sister Jack" demo were given out prior to the album release via their official website, and both songs ended up on the elusive Gimme Fiction bonus disk.

I'll spare you any catch-phrases like "I'm Going Ga Ga for Spoon," but after listening through the new album it seems that the dudes from Austin have hit their stride. Seldom treading back over things they've already done, brand new tracks like "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb" and "Don't You Evah" both sound single-worthy, and the album versions of live favorites "Don't Make Me A Target" and "Rhthm & Soul" sound as good as I had hoped. "Eddie's Ragga" and "My Little Japanese Cigarette Case" turn out to be the two weakest tracks on Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, but picking up the slack are the nearly perfect "Finer Feelings" and the climactic album closer "Black Like Me."

#5 - Girls Can Tell

Spoon's third release features mostly stripped-down songs, with the super-catchy melodies of tracks like "Anything You Want," "The Fitted Shirt" and "Lines In The Suit," along with the breakup-centered lyrical material of "10:20 Am" and album opener "Everything Hits At Once." Little-known fact: "Me and the Bean is actually a cover of a mid-90's Austin band called The Sidehackers. The songwriter of the Sidehackers, John Clayton, appears on Kill the Moonlight, contributing his bass skills to the album."

#6 - Telephono

Telephono, Spoon's debut full-length, is probably held in highest esteem by collectors and super fans. I bought it off of eBay in 2004 for about $50, and sure enough Merge goes and re-releases it just two short years later, packaged along with the Soft Effects EP. The same story goes for the split EP by Britt Daniel and Conor Oberst titled Home Volume IV, which I paid a few extra dollar bills for only a short time before it was re-issued by Post-Parlo Records. Great for Spoon fans, not so good for me. That split featured what is probably my favorite Spoon B-side, "Let the Distance Bring Us Together."

The Rolling Stone review of Telephono: "With all the Nirvana clones running amok, it's unusual to find a new band that actually remembers the Pixies, one of Kurt Cobain's main inspirations. Spoon recall that band too well. They understand how the Pixies created delightfully disconcerting melodies with unusual time signatures, sharp guitars and soft verse/loud chorus dynamics. Spoon learned how the Pixies countered Black Francis' howling vocals with Kim Deal's lethargic coos, and Spoon molded that knowledge into their debut album, Telephono, which might have been better called Smells Like Doolittle.

Despite the obvious similarities to their mentors, Spoon have created an engaging disc that strikes a precarious balance between quirkiness and catchiness. The songs may be willfully awkward, but they're short, simple and memorable, and they never degenerate into a noisy mess, as the Pixies' sometimes did. In an era in which alternative fans value art-damaged groups like the Flaming Lips and the Breeders and have a musical frame of reference that dates back no further than 1992, Spoon can be forgiven for their plagiarism and praised for their craftiness."

Speaking of the Spoon-Pixies connection, Britt Daniel once recorded a Pixies cover under a pseudonym that he used from 1994-96, Drake Tungsten. Drake self-released Clocking Out is for Suckers in 1994, and in 1996 released the Six Pence For The Sauces EP via Austin's Peek-A-Boo Records, which contained an instrumental cover version of the Pixies' "Do The Manta Ray."

Peek-A-Boo: "Drake Tungsten was a pseudonym for Britt Daniel's home recording project circa 1994-96. The short, acoustic tracks reveal Britt's love of The Beatles, while the others, moodier and embellished with arty guitar effects, offer an early glipmse of the Spoon frontman's songwriting and recording talent. Two of these songs were later recorded and released by Spoon — "I Could Be Underground" on the "30 Gallon Tank" EP, and "Chicago At Night" on the "Girls Can Tell" album. Although it has been out of print for many years, these songs are finally widely available again as digital downloads from iTunes and eMusic." Here's one from Mr. Tungsten...

More recently Spoon visited the Australian national radio station Triple J, recording a live cover of Julian Cope's "Upwards At 45 Degrees" for their weekly morning segment called Like A Version. The host gets an artist or group into the studio to do a cover of any song of their choosing, and some of the results have been featured on the compilation albums Like a Version: Vol 1 (2005) and Like a Version: Vol 2 (2006).

It is interesting to note that Britt Daniel's first band (1991-92) was named Skellington, which was the same title as Julian Cope's fifth solo album that was released a year earlier.


For a thorough Spoon discography check out this page,
and visit the Austin Chronicle for an early bio piece.

To purchase Spoon releases online, click:


Jeff said...

I would actually argue that 'Girls Can Tell' is the best Spoon album. 'Kill the Moonlight' is great though. I'll agree though that 'Telephono,' though still pretty good, is their least essential.

Ian LeClair said...

Nice little run-down. I wonder if Spoon is the sort of band that's ever going to inspire critics to write the sort of exhaustive history of the band. Maybe not, because apart from the Elektra thing there doesn't seem to be that much drama. Just a good, strong band that keeps on putting out great records.

Anyway, I was really intrigued by your ranking of "Girls Can Tell," as more than one person I've talked with thinks that it is Spoon's best. And while I'm not sure I agree with that, I definitely think it was an improvement on "Series of Sneaks."

Having mostly stayed away from the leaked tracks, I'm really looking forward to sitting down and giving the new album a good listen. Thanks for an interesting read!

Mr. Curiosity said...

I think you both have a point, Girls Can Tell does look awfully low on that list. I would argue against it being an improvement on Series, but pound-for-pound it is surely as strong as Gimme Fiction.

Somewhere along the line GCT just started to get bumped lower on my personal favorites scale, for whatever reason. I've found that I listen to it less than the others, but yeah, it's a fantastic record that is a must-have.

Justin said...

I wary at ranking Spoon albums, but appreciate your effort. I actually came across this because I was searching about "Me and the Bean" -- I just read in the liner notes that it was written by a John Clayton.

From my experience, it is a very rare thing to have a band that continues to transform just enough and to release consistently solid material throughout its life. Right now I'm debating whether to listen to any of Ga before its official release, because of this very reason.

Wayne said...

I have to agree that GCT is close to my fav Spoon record, just behind Gimme Fiction. I love Kill the Moonlight but I just believe those two are slightly better. I do love Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga and think it sits well with their past releases. Btw, I love Japanese Cigarette Case.

johngross said...

you're a doctor of spoonology.

popcorn was cancer said...

that's interesting that you say "Finer Feelings" and "Black Like Me" are perfect compared to "Eddie's Ragga" and "My Japanese...", because i felt exactly the opposite. it took me a few spins to appreciate Ragga, but i liked Japanese right off the bat, though i found it lyrically weak at first. and then, over many many more listens i started to enjoy the last two. not really complaining, i just like the fact that we disagreed, i feel it strengthens the album overall, which, by the way, fulfilled all my expectations!

Ekko said...

Really great, informative post, dude. Keep it going!

Kr√ęg said...

GCT is WAY too low on that list.

Anonymous said...

I've never been huge on GCT but I've never given it a fair listen to be honest.

I'm in love with Ga though. Absolutely fantastic, I disagree with the weak tracks you picked though, I'd go with Ghost of You Lingers but it's still very nice and definately a grower. Everything else is unreal.

My fav is Finer Feelings I'd say. So glad it's a long one too.

I think Gimme Fiction is my favourite, once it hits The Infinite Pet it's just untouchable.

Anonymous said...

the links for the "i summon you" demo, the drake tungsten track, & the julian cope cover don't work. it'd be nice if it's possible for you to put them up again.

Mr. Curiosity said...

This post is over a year old, links don't last that long.