Spoon is a tough band to pin down. I remember I had them recommended to me in spring ’03 by a girl I was seeing who professed that “They’re like my favorite” and I agreed that they were ultra-cool. Then I had this other friend who had somehow seen their pictures and lamented that “These guys aren’t the cool-looking dudes you think they are” (as you can see I’m the type to sit around and say nothing, more or less).
And then there’s that whole argument of what sort of class they fall into, which sort of little humanistic ideal they occupy – is it hard-working, blue-collar rock band? Is it indie snob? Is it Austin eccentric?
I noticed that they seem to change bass players on pretty much every album, or pretty much every GOOD album, at least, and while this might seem like the persnickety stuff of immature rock-star fit-throwers, I dunno… I kinda like it, in a way. I mean it’s so HUMAN. That is, we’re not exactly talking about Jaco freakin’ Pastorius here.
It’s like Britt Daniel says in “The Beast and Dragon, Adored,” which one time that same girl put on to alleviate an awkward game of beer pong: “Now all I need is a crew / One that can act as if / One that can stay on cue / And sneeze and sniff”. Sure, he’s guilty, but what of the first man with the balls to at least come out and ADMIT this? Where sitteth his place at the throne? Well, now we know.
25 “Sister Jack” (Gimme Fiction)
I have to say, Spoon could pretty much do no wrong during my college days, in this case 2005 contemporary with the release of the literary concept album Gimme Fiction (I just read that “Monsieur Valentine” is actually just a character singer Britt Daniel made up for the purpose of the project) – and this was the perfect type of song to soundtrack our naïve faiths in all things arts and conversational, the type of thing that turns a trip into a campus video store into something cinematic every time.
24 “Lines in the Suit” (Girls Can Tell)
Alan Baban and Calum Marsh had some effusive praise for “Lines in the Suit” in (the now defunct) Coke Machine Glow’s review of Transference: that “You (can) hear his voice rip it—and so the stakes seemed real, the danger and pain all too palpable.” Personally, to an extent I think the bare DIY aesthetic, rather than being some “purism,” is just the result of laziness, the unwillingness to add a synth or trumpet or any type of flair. Still, “Lines in the Suit” does show off Daniel’s penchant for a humanistic lyric or two: “The human resource clerk / Has two cigarettes and back to work / She eats right / It hurts / She says it could have been good by now / It could have been more than a wage / How come she feels so washed up / At such a tender age?”
23 “Was it You?” (Gimme Fiction)
I had this other friend who ONLY liked this song on Gimme Fiction and not any of the others, which is really ironic since he likes a bunch of androgynous crap like Of Montreal and Chvrches… well to each their own, or to each their own scattered, convoluted set of particularities… I guess this song does have some semblance of foray into trippy prog-funk… but I mean it’s Spoon, it’s still whiter than Starbucks and all that good stuff we know and love.
22 “Utilitarian” (A Series of Sneaks)
The MUSCLE was there on this sophomore effort from these Austin rapscallions… the bark and the bite, the crispness with which the tight chord progressions on guitar muffled Daniel’s urban indie street talking, this melancholy but vile energy of these rock and rollers with nothing to lose was all there, at least on this album opener.
21 “Take a Walk” (Girls Can Tell)
From all the relationship melodrama and weird retroism at work on Girls Can Tell, it’s nice to hear Daniel and the gang sort of haul back and let rip some rhythmic rock and roll, sneering forth on this cut for the satisfying kiss-off: “You can all go now / And take a walk”. Again, it’s the type of thing that would come across as bratty except that Daniel’s damaged voice just seems so perfect for this little cluster of indie Caucasianness, a respite from reality for music’s own sake, which everybody needs sometimes.
20 “The Underdog” (Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga)
Oh, so now I guess Spoon is all Mariachi and stuff with this trumpet in here now… well it’s not exactly the musical eclecticism that pushes this song into importance, if you can call that musical eclecticism… to me it’s like the unimaginable level of moral indignation Daniel is able to sum up for an act which honestly doesn’t even seem offensive to me, sort of like that rant Win Butler goes on in “Intervention”… the absolute apex of bit**y Caucasianness now seen waxen fruition. I give it an A+.
19 “The Way We Get by” (Kill the Moonlight)
Sort of a centerpiece on Kill the Moonlight even though it only comes at number two, “The Way We Get by” unleashes a pretty interesting bevy of musical references, such as “We make love to ‘Some Weird Sin’,” accounting there an Iggy Pop song and “Fall in love to ‘Down on the Street’,” that time tackling a song by Pop’s former back The Stooges, the second of which is probably harder to manifest into a double entendre. Oh yeah, and it’s really catchy indie pop… that probably doesn’t hurt its cause too bad.
18 “Jonathan Fisk” (Kill the Moonlight)
In a way this is my quintessential Spoon song, which is sort of paradoxical since musically the band here aren’t really doing anything NEW – just some let-‘er-rip palm-muting power pop for your drive to work. Well, maybe that’s why it’s good. Plus as is pretty typical with this band the lyrics definitely aren’t the worst: “Jonathan Fisk always remiss / Tells me how counts my teeth every night / I wanna get ‘em all back now”… “Jonathan Fisk speaks with his fist / Can’t let me walk home on my own”.
17 “I Summon You” (Gimme Fiction)
This one line in this song I remember tickled my sister a little bit: “The law enforcements impressed you survived to this age” (not sure if she was secretly giving a shoutout to me there with that anecdote)… and yeah it’s another album track on a great LP, from where I’m sitting, but I’ve been wrong before, like when I said Liars was a better summer concert than Radiohead.
16 “Back to the Life” (Kill the Moonlight)
Ya know, you could switch this one to number one, I’d just sort of nod in compliance, perhaps drunkenly, to go fall into the dirt behind the café and just revel in the reckless abandon our rock and roll arbiters can sometimes speak with, with both voices and guitars.
15 “Finer Feelings” (Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga)
Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga was a big time grower for me (though again, I’d liked Gimme Fiction right away)… well “Don’t Make Me a Target” struck me as exactly like the first song on the album prior, “The Beast and Dragon, Adored,” for one thing. “Finer Feelings,” too, doesn’t really STAND OUT stylistically in any way or come across as musically eccentric, it’s just sort of a damaged and nervous end-of-day account of life, wherein you have no choice but to show “finer feelings” to the world, provided you can find them under some floorboards somewhere, or something.
14 “They Never Got You” (Gimme Fiction)
Again, the musical regularity is almost stunning, or is it? I think it’s just the relentless surety, like a dog, that drives Daniel’s lyricism and vocals here that pushes this one over the hump for me, and how again it’s like an endorsement of a person’s grit and zeal on a platonic level. Well it could also be a self-paean disguised as second-person, I suppose. I don’t know that it necessarily matters.
13 “You Gotta Feel it” (Kill the Moonlight)
This you might call Spoon’s brief insurrection into at least RELATIVE blackness, the idea that rhythm is something you feel in your BONES and can’t be explained away in terms of politics, which is often a popular topic among white people and, sadly, musical sectors, these days.
12 “The Infinite Pet” (Gimme Fiction)
This song’s high ranking has no small amount to do with its swanky, bluesy intro, and I hate myself for not knowing the original artist it reminds me of, although I think it was the interlude theme music for some Chicago AM radio station in the late 1990s that I’m thinking of. Overall, we have here just an infectious track, without doubt, complete with some great hip-holstered “ah-ah-ah”’s in the chorus.
11 “Small Stakes” (Kill the Moonlight)
Here’s another example of how Britt Daniel seems like just an endless fountain of compelling humanistic lyrics: “Small stakes give you the blues / You don’t feel taken don’t think you’ve been used / It feels alright Friday night to Sunday / It feels alright keeps your mind on the page”, also impressive for bequeathing us an album opener this distinct and this powerful but which features basically no drum beat, just that barely audible, almost tribal bass drum run and some sporadic tambourine and… er… some syncopated synth riffing flanking certain one-beat guitar stabs? Whew. That’s the best I can do, I think.
10 “My Little Japanese Cigarette Case” (Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga)
This song definitely grew on me as just really infectious and spooky, coming toward the end of the album and so bespeaking such a sense of urgency, handling a minute and absurd subject matter as a way of only further conveying the desperate state of mind of the artist and most importantly, providing one of Daniel’s most panicked and Cubist guitar solos to date. I think the CD back provided the exact title as “My Lil. Japanese Cig. Case” and to be honest I was hoping I would find such an unorthodox spelling on Wikipedia, but wasn’t so lucky.
9 “Eddie’s Raga” (Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga)
Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga doesn’t have a title track, but “Raga” is pretty darn tootin’ close, and indeed, although this track isn’t especially weird or dramatic, it does have that sort of infectious, rhythmic sangfroid which bespeaks an immovable bulwark of the LP at hand. No doubt, it’s one of my favorite songs on the album, the slow funkiness lulling you into this groove which also seems to cap off the ’00s and the whole indie movement, too, in its own way.
8 “The Beast and Dragon, Adored” (Gimme Fiction)
I know I can be kind of an a** on these lists and slip into a penchant for making fun of the band, especially when they’re as trendy and simple as Spoon… well here anyway is where in this case the artist really snaps back in my face and tells me I’m sh**, and rightfully so: this beautiful album opener is a classic case of a song being more than the sum of its parts, building to an orchestral, climactic chorus sung in the name of “rock and roll” and also, perhaps most importantly, offering a foreshadowing to two other songs on the album which would come later, and doing so in a way I’ve never heard any other band do exactly, as far as I can remember.
7 “The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine” (Gimme Fiction)
Like I allude to before, this is a figure not from British literature or drama but from Britt Daniel’s own imagination: at the end of the day it’s a pop song that definitely holds up and I’m not entirely sure whether it matters that it’s a made-up fictional figure, but it certainly amounts to some acceptable lyrical pulp, when Daniel couldn’t think of anything else, if nothing else. The music video is pretty memorable too and made my “Top 50 Indie Rock Music Videos” list of earlier this year.
6 “Rhthm & Soul” (Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga)
Coming after a string of what I consider possibly the most overrated two singles on an album known to man, “Rhthm & Soul” bestows some much needed subtlety and animalizing aspects on to the project (the alleviation of drama, in other words), perhaps whittling away as not quite so funky as some other cuts but still running on this brilliant juxtaposition of minor and major chords leading into the chorus, each of which is a little different in the lyrics, too.
5 “All the Pretty Girls Go to the City” (Kill the Moonlight)
On my last road trip up home I had Kill the Moonlight in for part of the drive (it’s amazing how handy-dandy CD’s can still be for such proceedings) and the spooky, haunting brilliance of this song hit me more than ever, on which the band finally stray from their strikingly simple power-pop m.o. and groove into some hypnotic funk that will keep your head nodding, along with a simple but astonishingly groovy drum fill or two.
4 “Me and the Bean” (Girls Can Tell)
Featured prominently as track three on the band’s third album, “Me and the Bean” is a bizarre and gorgeous tale of a friendship so deep that Daniel even professes “I have your blood inside my heart”, hence showcasing his unique knack for illustrating the amazing ways humans can connect with each other, even in everyday life situations. The influences are the same as usual, probably The Rolling Stones and Talking Heads most notably, but it’s the way the band weaves it all together with such style and succinctness that makes it classic.
3 “Black Like Me” (Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga)
As you can tell by this list, this is the LAST Spoon song I really, really liked… well by this point in their career they’d certainly surpassed most bands out there in the department of ingenious output. In no particular order, here are some things about this song which really impress me and get my jaw dropping: the “I spent the night in the math room / I humanized the vacuum” pairing, the awesome chord progression of the guitar interludes, the awesome guitar SOUND, and the magnanimous coda of the song which provides the “Just opening a can of lite” lyric in close conjunction to a reference to someone who “makes me feel so light”. Then, the “Street tar in summer can do a job on your soul” resignation almost feels immaterial, once all this is said and done.
2 “Anything You Want” (Girls Can Tell)
This used to be my cheesy song I’d listen to when I was missing this one girl… it fit me pretty well since I can sometimes veer toward alcoholic behavior, and I love socializing and I love indie rock… anyway it’s a great song nobody ever seems to talk about so I figured I’d put it on here. That’s about all it is to me now, I guess.
1 “Vittorio E.” (Kill the Moonlight)
I could sit here and tell you that what I like most about this song are the things that make it DIFFERENT from other songs: the band’s unexplainable decision to include what’s apparently a studio mistake of the guitarist starting the tune when the pianist wasn’t ready, making prominent certain little instances of band member banter which aren’t really part of the lyrics, et. al., but really, all of this is nothing without its true signature as just another great rock and roll song, albeit one that doesn’t need loud volume to be powerful, and doesn’t need desperate statement to be dramatic, Daniel’s melancholy and musical vision governing the album finale into one simple, beautiful plaint: “I wanna be there tonight / I wanna get there but it’s just outta sight”.