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How many times in musical history has the most acclaimed act of an era peaked in its
20th year? We’re not talking a reunion, return to form, twilight years surprise or any of
that. We’re asking how many times has a critically and publicly adored band—one still in
its prime--released (arguably) its best album at the start of its third decade?
To save you valuable Googling time: It’s happened once, it is in fact happening now, and
unlike Haley’s Comet streaking by or whatever, you are fortunate enough to be able to
hold it in your hand or on your hard drive. It’s called Spoon: They Want My Soul (out
August 5 on Loma Vista).
Yes, the new album from the single most favorably reviewed musical force of the
previous decade (Metacritic numbers don’t lie:
of-the-decade) already being hailed as “perfect” (Rolling Stone) and "fantastically
infectious… perhaps the most confident point of its career” (NPR) also falls roughly on
the 20th anniversary of Spoon’s barely-released 1994 debut EP, Nefarious.
So on to the obvious questions: How and why does this happen? After a 20-year streak of
unerring excellence in the form of albums like Telephono, A Series Of Sneaks, Girls Can
Tell, Kill The Moonlight, Gimme Fiction, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga and Transference (not to
mention EPs like the indispensable Soft Effects, Love Ways, Don’t You Evah and Got
Nuffin), how does They Want My Soul raise the bar with surprise premiere first single
“Rent I Pay” (,
current chart climbing summer anthem “Do You” and the sublimely trippy “Inside
Out” (all three of which comprise the 45RPM 10" currently flying out of indie record
retailers as part of the program)?
Maybe the answer lies in the rejuvenation provided by a first-ever break following a
grueling 10-year run that kicked off in 2001 with Girls Can Tell and saw the band plow
tirelessly through the 2002-2010 releases of Kill The Moonlight, Gimme Fiction, Ga Ga
Ga Ga Ga and Transference, and the ever expanding tours supporting each album, all
without a pause. Sure, the momentum was as irresistible as it was self-induced: spurred
on by singles like Kill The Moonlight’s “The Way We Get By,” Gimme Fiction’s “I Turn
My Camera On,” Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga’s “The Underdog” and more, sales were
progressively doubling from album to album, hitting an incredible peak
when Transference entered the U.S. album chart at #4.
So who would even think about jumping from that runaway train… until it just happened:
at the end of the Transference tour, Britt Daniel, Jim Eno, Eric Harvey and Rob Pope all
went their separate ways. No consulting one another on next moves, when the band
would re-convene, or even if it would at all. Spoon had effectively gone on a naturally
occurring indefinite hiatus.
Mind you, even Spoon’s hiatuses defy convention. The band members were anything but
idle: Britt formed Divine Fits with Dan Boeckner (late of Handsome Furs, Wolf Parade)
and Sam Brown (ex-Gaunt, New Bomb Turks) and recorded the brilliant A Thing Called
Divine Fits with producer Nick Launay (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Public Image
Ltd., etc.). And speaking of producers of renown, Jim continued his ascent in that arena,
taking advantage of the downtime to go full-time at his own Public Hi-Fi, producing
records by Polica, !!!, Telekinesis and others while releasing a series of Public Hi-Fi
Sessions on the studio’s own label banner. Rob opened a (new) bar and embarked on the
adventure of family life, Eric released the solo Lake Disappointment and worked on
visual art in Dallas.
So a few years of passion projects, traumatic break ups and even a new marriage later, the
members of Spoon started to succumb to whatever force it is that inexorably draws them
to one another. And this time there was a significant addition, fifth member Alex Fischel,
found on the side of a highway being raised by wolves by Britt, who taught him to play
keyboards, gave him a job in Divine Fits, and in turn exacted Alex’s blood oath to play
by his side in everything he does from that point.
The result has moved the likes of NPR to call They Want My Soul "unmistakably a Spoon
record” while noting that the band is "challenging itself and stretching its sound,
particularly with synth textures courtesy of the band's newest addition, Alex Fischel.” But
lest the new guy get too big a head too, there were other forces at play in making the new
disc such a mind blower. They Want My Soul found Spoon working with not one but two
new producers: Grammy winner Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, MGMT, Tame Impala)
and Joe Chicarelli (White Stripes, The Shins) were both enlisted, one sonic innovator
known for his psychedelic palette, the other a big rock producer known for his arsenal of
monolithic tones. The two producers' individual styles couldn't have been more
dissimilar, and here they were each crafting half a Spoon record—a band whose signature
style made sense with neither of them.
The resultant shake-up was as necessary as it was revitalizing. It accounts for that new
energy crackling in every groove of They Want My Soul, a wild card frequency
underlying every familiar groove and melody… and one that serves to bolster that overall
sentiment that this is the best record the band has ever made.
It also shouldn’t be overlooked that a good share of They Want My Soul’s alien vibe may
come as the result of the extended periods of isolation they endured during its
recording—one man’s pastoral paradise is a primarily Austin-born and bred band’s dark
night of the soul. The guys spent a lot of time at Fridmann's Cassadaga, NY (pop. 625)
outpost, much of it snowed in and some of it punctuated by incidents involving True
Detective/Blair Witch style teepees and stick structures, mysterious trails of bloodstains
in the snow… Details are fuzzy and cabin fever is a real thing, so suffice to say the five
men who made that trip are not the same five men who came back from it.
Anyway, whatever happened up there was evidently worth it, as the band that turned
heads by leaping from Matador to Elektra nearly 20 years ago (only to begin its true
ascent on Merge roughly a year later) now triumphantly resurfaces on Loma Vista for
album number eight. But hey that’s Spoon, “one of the most consistently great bands in
indie rock” (Rolling Stone) yet one not necessarily on an indie label or making records
that sound particularly “indie," the kings of the underground whose music has wormed its
way into your brain on Veronica Mars and Saturday Night Live, the band that has
conceived and executed the Vinyl Gratification campaign in the age of the digital preorder
incentive… If there’s a tried and true formula for anything in this business, look for
Spoon to