Spoon - They Want My Soul

There’s a moment on Spoon’s new song “Outlier” where Britt Daniel sneaks a sharp splinter of film criticism into one of the tough, terse, personal songs that Spoon is so known for: “I remember when you walked out of Garden State / You had taste, you had taste / You had no time to waste.” Imagine Zach Braff’s face when he hears that song — because you know he’ll hear it. As a guy who was making slick, broadly appealing indie rock in the early ’00s, Daniel probably indirectly made some money off of Garden State, and Joe Chiccarelli, the longtime music-biz insider who co-produced “Outlier,” previously produced the life-changing Shins’ Wincing the Night Away. Point is, that tossed-off dis, really just an aside in the song, is a potential bridge-burner, and most big-indie frontmen in 2014 aren’t in the business of burning bridges, at least not consciously. But Daniel has always carried himself above the fray, with a slight sneer in his voice and a clear sense of purpose in his melodies. And if he wants to say “fuck that” about something, he’s going to do it. That’s a minor moment on Spoon’s new album They Want My Soul, but it’s a telling one, and it shows off the haughty confidence that has always set both Daniel and his band apart. Spoon carry themselves with a certain strut, and it’s been too long since we’ve heard that strut in action.

When was the last time you listened to Transference? Because you should listen to Transference again. When Spoon released their last album, early in 2010, the world responded with a resounding shrug. That can be a problem when a band is too good for too long: The world can learn to take them for granted. Spoon’s style didn’t really evolve between 2007′s great Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga and Transference, but then, it didn’t really need to. Spoon had been on a ridiculous hot streak for an entire decade, perfecting their songwriting style by stripping away everything that wasn’t absolutely needed, focusing on choppy rhythm and mathematically precise melodies, pushing Daniel’s hiccup-and-gasp delivery all the way to the front of the mix, deploying studio tricks with such self-assurance that you wouldn’t even notice them until maybe the 10th listen. Listen to Transference now, and you’ll hear a band very much in control of their own vision, and there are so many magical moments in there. The layered harmonies on “Before Destruction,” the staccato guitars on “Is Love Forever?,” the halfway-to-rockabilly riffage of “Got Nuffin” — the riches are there, and they’re obvious. But maybe Spoon needed to go away for four years to let us hear them. And now that they’re back after that long break, all those tricks and ideas sound as fresh as they did back on Girls Can Tell and Kill The Moonlight.

It’s not like Spoon have stopped trying to push forward on They Want My Soul. On the album, the band worked with two producers, both of them extremely disparate choices and both of them completely new to the band. The aforementioned Chiccarelli has the sort of long, diverse resume that you inevitably build up when you spend decades behind the boards; his past collaborators range from Oingo Boingo to Jason Mraz to the Strokes. He’s a professional, the type a major label might bring in to help clean up an indie band’s sound, but it’s not like Spoon’s sound needed cleaning up. The other producer is the upstate New York bugout architect Dave Fridmann, who got almost famous by helping bands like the Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev make their majestic psychedelic opuses. Later on, Fridmann became the guy that bands would go to when they needed to freshen up the sounds that, they felt, were getting old, the guy to inject some neon-noise sprawl into otherwise self-contained styles. He’s served that function for bands like Sleater-Kinney and Thursday in the past, and he’s done great work with them, partly by drawing those bands into his soundworld. Chiccarelli and Fridmann couldn’t be more different, but taking a casual listen to They Want My Soul it’s almost impossible to guess who did what. Spoon’s authorial voice is that strong. They could work with Pharrell or Steve Albini or Avicii or Mutt Lange, and things probably wouldn’t change much; they’d still come out sounding like Spoon.

At this point, it doesn’t serve much function to ask where They Want My Soul fits into Spoon’s career-long worst-to-best rankings, partly because nobody can agree on what the best Spoon album is (Kill The Moonlight, says this guy) and partly because every album is, in one way or another, of a piece with every other album. And that’s what you need to know the most about They Want My Soul: It’s a practiced and confident piece of power-pop from a band that plays every instrument like a drum, with a singer who can project swagger even through a hungover growl — all of which is to say that it’s a Spoon album.

The drums sound incredible, maybe more incredible than they’ve sounded on any Spoon album. Jim Eno isn’t a showy drummer — he hardly ever even plays fills — but his hits are so crushingly hard and precise and in-the-pocket that he could’ve walked out of one of DJ Premier’s dreams. The melodies are full and robust, and they dance more than they usually do; the choruses of “Do You” and “Inside Out” show a level of old-school pop classicism that the band usually only hints at, while “I Just Don’t Understand” actually is an old-school pop classic (made famous by Ann-Margret in 1961, covered by the Beatles) retrofitted to slot right in with the band’s aesthetic. The lyrics are as mysterious and elusive as ever. There’s talk of breakups and New York and falling-apart relationships and invasive outside influences and walking out of Garden State, and the lines make sense in isolation, but they never cohere into a grand narrative. There are more bursts of noisy backwards keyboard than usual, and it’s hard to tell whether that’s because of Fridmann or because of the band’s newest member Alex Fischel, a keyboardist and guitarist and veteran of Daniel’s really great Divine Fits side project. But those keyboards never rip the songs open. Instead, they’re like a new toy for the band to play with.

They Want My Soul isn’t Spoon’s major-label debut; that would be 1997′s sophomore joint A Series Of Sneaks, a casualty in the post-grunge-boom thrashings of the Elektra A&R department. But it’s Spoon’s first album on a major after a long and fruitful stint on Merge, and so it’s delightful how little the band switches things up, even when they try to move left. It’s especially delightful that the album starts with the slashing, muscular “Rent I Pay,” a clear statement of intent that rides its sinuous groove as hard as a groove could possibly be ridden. “Rent I Pay” is, to my ears, the band’s finest song since “Don’t You Evah” at least, and it sends a message that the rest of the album drives home. This band is going to keep cranking out wiry, cocksure, intense little gems for as long as they can keep it together. We’d to well not to take them for granted this time.

They Want My Soul is out 8/5 on Loma Vista, but you can already stream it here.

Comments (100)
  1. Ridiculously excited for this album, and the great writing here is a given. One music geek nitpick – the side project was Divine Fits. Though given that co-frontman Dan Boeckner was also in Handsome Furs, I guess calling the band Handsome Fits makes perfect sense in some way.

  2. Divine fits not handsome fits broheim. (God that inside out song is amazing)

  3. From another Transference fan…

    “We’d to well not to take them for granted this time.”


    • That said, regarding Transference, I think “Out Go the Lights” isn’t just one Spoon’s most beautiful song, but one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard. It’s some magic on the level of “God Only Knows” or “Waterloo Sunset,” I swear.

      • I’m with you. Transference is just full of deep, subtle grooves. “The Mystery Zone” and “Who Makes Your Money”, come on. Those songs are so awesome.

      • I think ‘Inside Out’ is now a contender in that category as well, majestic isn’t a fitting enough word to describe it.

    • Transference is great, I think like Low and Yo La Tengo and Los Lobos (to pick some other consistently strong American acts) Spoon have been so good for so long that people tend to take them for granted. Transference also suffered from coming out in January, which (with a few notable exceptions) tends to be the month where new releases are forgotten by the end of the year.

    • I love the Transference love. Not a weak song on the album in my opinion.

    • Funny thing, Nine Types of Light was received so similarly to Transference that I wonder if we’ll also need to wait four and a half years for the next TV on the Radio.

    • As 2010 seemed to go on, I felt like the only person who remembered Transference existed. Granted, that year also saw This Is Happening, Age of Adz, and Body Talk. But goddamn, what a record.

      This one’s great too, and I look forward to hearing it without the iTunes ads between every other song. What a buzzkill.

    • Transference is a great record. It is great to see the fans of that album start to come out of the woodwork a bit. I think it is easily on par with everything else they have done. People just got bored with their excellence.

      And yes, “Out Go the Lights” is a top tier Spoon song. A true heavy hitter in a field of heavy hitters.

  4. Interesting that Tom is so into “Rent I Pay”. Def my least favorite of the three tracks they officially put out.

    Anyways, the first two paragraphs sum everything up perfectly. Spoon hasn’t broken a lot of ground, but they have been so consistently great. Not solid, not good, but truly great. I don’t get out to shows like I used to but I’m seeing Spoon on Friday. I’m thrilled.

  5. I love the album, every single song is dynamite.

    Also, more generally, what a great week for music! This and FKA Twigs.

  6. You DO understand that the “Garden State” lines were about someone else, right?

    That may be the single biggest irrelevant paragraph I’ve ever had to wade through in order to get to actual information about music.

  7. I’m really glad to hear this album is not only good, but great. Half way through it now and I’d have to agree with that sentiment. Been a bit of a dry spell for things music wise lately (at least for me) and this is the shot needed to give my car some new tunes to play with what’s left of summer.

  8. At least take the time to think about the lyric before you go calling it a “diss” against Garden State. The narrator of the song is singing to an ex-lover or maybe an old friend, someone who was too “cool” to like Garden State (among other examples in the song). And then the narrator wonders “what happened to you, kid? What’s happening now?”

    Anyway, the album is great. Incredible production, guy from Divine Fits adds a lot, although there are too many tracks that go on and on for no reason. The whole thing has a big arena rock feel to it. Lots of “mmm-na-na” and “dooooo-dooooo-doooo”, not that it’s out of the norm for Britt but it’s now everywhere.

  9. Dang, can’t stream this from the Emerald Isle. Where’s the luck of the Irish when you want new Spoon?

  10. Album is sick. Although I like the live version of Knock Knock Knock better, the album version sort of drags and has a few too many bells and whistles. But anyway thats one minor Knock against a sick solid album.

  11. you ruined the entire review by failing to realize that “dont you evah” is a cover..

  12. This is just the kind of album to rub in the faces of all those “guitar music isn’t relevant anymore” people. They sound rich, full, invigorated; any song in here could have been the lead single. When I saw the 3 songs we’d heard so far were in the front half of the album, I worried about the back one a bit —but no, the back half might be even better. “Outlier” and “New York Kiss” kick immense amounts of ass.

  13. So Spoon’s They Want My Soul got a Premature Evaluation, even from Mr. Album of the Week himself Tom? That means that there is zero chance that it will be considered AOTY next week at all… Dammit.

  14. Transference is amazing, maybe almost as good as Kill The Moonlight!
    I went there.

  15. What’s better, “Inside Out” or “Do You”? I CAN’T DECIDE.

  16. That tambourine on “They Want My Soul” is so the bees knees. No other band knows how to add that one little thing to a song to take it from good to great as well as them.

  17. f. i spent like 2 hours trying to illegally download this yesterday and now it is streaming. f you itunes.

    i listened 4 times by the way. it got better everytime. the last two tracks are the best for me right now.

  18. Man, Britt sounds so fucking indifferent on this–and I love it. He truly does not give a damn, which is awesome, especially following the anti-social and introverted direction of Transference. And while I don’t think the highs hit as high as on Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, this is an extremely consistent, unified album.

  19. man, this is a DEFIANT fucking record. welcome back. it’s gritty, mean, dirty. fuck yeah.

  20. Is Loma Vista a a major?

  21. I feel really left out by the whole Spoon thing. I loved the lead single off Kill the Moonlight when it came out but found myself selling the CD a few months later after deciding all the songs were too repetitive — always just one repeating riff. I’ll listen to this one a few more times to see if I can find that thing everyone else hears but, so far, it’s just not there for me. It’s weird too because on paper, they’re a band I absolutely love.

  22. tied w/ the 5 previous Spoon albums for rock and roll record of the century

  23. FUN FACT:

    This is the very first Spoon album to contain a title track.

  24. enjoying the transference love, but am always disappointed that “nobody gets me but you” never gets a mention. to my ears that is the clearest distillation of spoon’s “band that plays every instrument like a drum” aesthetic. absolutely one of my favourite spoon songs, but then, the thing with spoon is that everyone has different favourite spoon song.

    • I guess nobody gets “Nobody Gets Me But You” but you.

      But really, that is a great song and great album closer. And if I see one more mention of Transference not being good or being disappointing or whatever… If Transference was the debut album of any other artist it would be showered in praise and perfect 10′s and wow amazings, but since it’s Spoon’s 7th, too many reviewers (and some fans) felt the need to just focus on its shortcomings (which are non-existent to me). It’s as good as any other album they’ve done with some of the best songs they’ve ever done, the end.

      • I absolutely love that tune. They always have such catchy baselines and that one is up there with I Turn My Camera On. I wonder if Britt or Rob Pope wrote those?

      • I think that may be their best, or at least tied with KTM. KTM is the simplest distillation of their sound, whereas transference is just everything they do well and more. Not a weak track on either though…
        Also, no love for ‘Who Makes Your Money?’ or ‘Goodnight Laura’ or ‘I Saw The Light’?

    • I really like that one but I like They Never Got You a lot better, I guess lyrically it seemed like a retread. Although musically they are far apart.

  25. I want to snuggle up behind this record and hold it tight.

  26. Spoon seems to be incapable of disappointing. I love listening to/reading interviews with Britt, too. The guy KNOWS that they’re as good as they are, but he’s never arrogant. I mean, their body of work is as good as anyone’s from the past, I dunno, 40+ years? I legitimately believe that. What a band, and what an album. So glad to have them back.

    For the record, I think the title track might be the best song on this album full of best songs.

    • I had felt they were one of the best for a long time, before I ever knew the Metacritic site even existed. When I eventually came across the best music of 2000-2009 article and saw Spoon was not just “up there” but at #1, I was very happy to see that. They deserved the validation, and hey, so did I!

  27. I lied to my boss—a pretty chill guy who isn’t much older than myself—in order to be able to leave an hour or so early today so I could listen to this stream in peace. Tomorrow when I come in, I’ll be honest with him and say I went on a pilgrimage to Heaven. And he’ll understand.

  28. The feedback on that guitar on They Want My Soul. Hot damn.

  29. And I’m glad you mentioned Joe Chiccarelli helped produce this album, Tom. When I was listening to “Knock Knock Knock” I kept thinking of another song that I couldn’t pinpoint, but when I read your review and noticed that Chiccarelli also produced Wincing the Night Away, I immediately recognized it as “Sealegs”! Does anyone else hear that? Especially in the guitar riff. That’s one of my favorite Shins songs, so any nod to that great work is always welcomed.

    And yeah, They Want My Soul rules.

  30. Yep, was searching for reviews. Created an account here just to log in and say “Thanks, Britt.” You’ve, believably or not, never disappointed. Thanks for another great fucking record!”.

  31. I listened to rent i pay on a laptop for the first time about 2/3 weeks ago and i thought it was ok, then i played the youtube video through my brothers surround sound last night and I’m still picking up my teeth. What a song.

  32. They might just been the finest rock n’ roll band in the world. You can’t underestimate consistency. Transference was the definition of Spoon, although it wasn’t their finest and some people took it for it granted. This one just continues the thread that they have formed over their career and it is an absolutely outstanding album.. Not ready to name it album of year but it is one of the year’s finest and Do You, and Inside Out are two of the finest songs of the year.

  33. Finally got some time to sit down and give this one a proper listen. Tom, totally spot on about Eno’s drumming. His drumming and Fridmann’s crunchy and loud as fuck production/mixing on the drums is a match made in heaven.

  34. This album is so good.

  35. Yo so real talk, I liked ‘Rent I Pay’ but DIDN’T LOVE THE OTHER TWO SINGLES THAT MUCH .. until I heard them in the context of the album. Now I love them all. In my opinion this album a) works wayy better as a collection and b) is absolutely awesome

  36. Ssssssssssspoooooooooooooonah!!!

    That is all.

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