Spoon: The Goldilocks of Bands

07/30/2014 4:00 AM |

They Want My Soul

Even after twenty years on the scene, Spoon remain subtly confusing. They’re a band that’s easy to underestimate, if only because they’re so consistent and put together. But then think of the perilously thin tightrope Spoon so nimbly walk, and their refusal to stick with rock dude aloofness, instead busting out a half-dozen big hooks per album. Spoon were minimal in the mid-00s moment when over-orchestration sapped indie rock’s pulse, and then its members were meticulous studio professionals amid the chill-waves of half-assed lo-fi a few years later. Spoon were peppy enough to fit into dance punk playlists in ’04, yet Britt Daniel’s got enough soul to slide in with R&B-indebted stuff in ’14. Despite that killer pop sense, the band have never chased trends to the point of pandering, so the music doesn’t grow dated in retrospect. There’s no greater narrative to this kind of career arc except that of a good band keeping it together, and getting really goddamn good. Spoon is now probably the best rock band in the world, having arrived at that title in a super unassuming manner. The Goldilocks zone Spoon inhabit is a minor miracle of “just-right.”

It’s tempting to say that Spoon would have been bigger in an earlier music marketplace. Just imagine all its best stuff on one ’90s CD, like the then-ubiquitous Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ Greatest Hits. Pumping from every suburban Discman and car stereo, it would have functioned as a gateway drug and de facto masterpiece. But really, Spoon have had no problem worming into its own era’s culture. Spoon’s best songs—hooky, groovy, tasteful—always contain a few super-choice seconds, ideas summed up in concentrated pop crystals. As such, Spoon have been ideal for music supervisors in film, TV, and advertising. “The Way We Get By,” “The Underdog,” and “I Turn My Camera On” bypassed the radio entirely on their way to becoming indelible, lucrative hits. Spoon may never headline Madison Square Garden, but they’re hardly stranded in obscurity.

Critics never turned on Spoon fully, but the band’s 2010 record, Transference, was a rare leftward jag on an otherwise ascendent diagonal. (It still managed to be the band’s biggest chart success.) It’s not a bad album at all, just one where the usual clean lines are smudged and direct pleasures suffer shaggy overgrowth. The trio of advance singles from Spoon’s latest, They Want My Soul, snap straight back to classic. The big open stomp of “The Rent I Pay,” the fizzy coos of “Do You,”and the understated strut of “Inside Out” slot easily next to their career best. Spoon didn’t really need a bold comeback, but made one anyway.

Though apparent in each album, Spoon’s aggregate greatness still sort of snuck up on us. Is there any young band out there now putting together a similarly solid resume on the sly? Not really. Though their studio sheen is comparable, Vampire Weekend were instant indie hearthrobs from the start. (It’s been a long time since “Oxford Comma” drew direct Spoon comparisons.) Dum Dum Girls get ever better at concise longing, but every phase seems more retro than classic. The reliability of a band like Real Estate comes at the expense of electricity. Thee Oh Sees crackle and snap in the absence of pop.

It’s lucky then that Spoon, rested and refocused, sound like they could do this forever.