Four years after their surprise success, the Texan five-piece are back with a cult album in the making
Spoon are the archetypal cult band. For much of their 20-year existence, they’ve inspired intense devotion from hardcore fans and little more than confused shrugs from everyone else. Then, in 2010, ‘Transference’ – which sold 53,000 copies in its first week – saw them break through to a bigger audience and reach Number Four in the US album chart in the process. It came as a surprise to band and long-term supporters alike, given that the album wasn’t significantly different to its predecessors. Full-blown commercial success (and more critical recognition than ever before) didn’t seem to suit Spoon, however. Their response was to take an uncharacteristic four-year break in order to “decompress” – or in other words, wait for any momentum they’d developed to wind down. And can it be a coincidence that frontman Britt Daniel and drummer Jim Eno, the two permanent members of the Austin five-piece, have chosen to call album eight ‘They Want My Soul’?
Daniel has tried to frame this album as some kind of new chapter – just take a look at the online teaser that trailed the release of ‘They Want My Soul’ earlier this summer, which declared “Spoon R.I.P.” in white letters on a black background. It turned out to be a reference to opening track ‘Rent I Pay’, but also seemed to be playing with the idea of some kind of break with the past.
It’s not, although there are some minor changes. There’s a new band member, guitarist Alex Fischel, who Daniel met while playing with Divine Fits, the US indie ‘supergroup’ whose other members included Wolf Parade’s Dan Boeckner and New Bomb Turks drummer Sam Brown. It’s also the first record on which Spoon have worked with outside producers; Dave Fridmann (The Flaming Lips, MGMT) and Joe Chiccarelli (Morrissey, The Strokes) share those duties. None of it has made much discernible difference to Spoon’s hybrid of indie-pop and alt-rock, however. ‘Rent I Pay’ opens with Jim Eno hammering at a snare before a chopping guitar slides in and Daniel barks the lines, “Out amongst the stars and the stones/Every fortune gets old”. It’s vintage Spoon, a neat balancing act that offsets the kind of melody that digs in and won’t let go with a hard-hitting, raw edge.
If there’s a difference from their previous work, it’s that the track, like the whole album, is lightly coated with distortion. It’s a fuzziness that continues on ‘Inside Out’, which sees Daniel musing on love and religion over a jabbing keyboard that fades into a rippling synth soundscape. Meanwhile, a version of Swedish-American singer Ann-Margaret’s 1961 song ‘I Just Don’t Understand’ (as covered by The Beatles) takes things in the other direction, comprising just acoustic strums, chords bashed out on a piano and Daniel hollering like a drunk.
In the end, the most important thing about ‘They Want My Soul’ is the time Spoon have taken to make it. Planned or accidental, they’ve allowed their success after ‘Transference’ to cool. In all other respects, nothing much has changed. Spoon are still a band you can fall in love with, knowing it’s an acquired taste. Indeed, long-time fans will draw parallels with records like 2001’s ‘Girls Can Tell’ and 2005’s ‘Gimme Fiction’ from Spoon’s back catalogue. Those albums were evidence of a band at ease with their off-kilter appeal, and their supporters knew it. ‘They Want My Soul’ is a cult record in the making from the quintessential cult group. Normal service has been resumed.