“Dolby’s Rupees: Spoon – ‘Finer Feelings’”

So is the 2000s the “golden era” of indie rock? It would seem almost like a foregone conclusion, with the cultural backwind of the war in Iraq and the blight of commercial substance creating the perfect conditions for an explosion of the underground. 

Spoon is right there at the very elite of this movement, then, I’d say, with, perhaps, Broken Social Scene, The New Pornographers, Fleet Foxes and a few others. The Austin, Texas band defined lo-fi exemplarily, constructing songs wherein the statements are closely juxtaposed and there isn’t too much production fanfare going on. 

With this being the case, I think, the music sometimes had the quality of being slow to catch on. In particular, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (2007), an album which contains the subject of my post title, took me a couple spins to really understand. The substantive aspects ooze out slowly as the band’s approaches and strategies don’t stand in strong discrepancy from the ones on their prior album — the strong acoustic presence and warm, folky production, to again, isolate the songwriting itself as an entity sovereign.

Of course, this is far from a Peter, Paul & Mary singalong. In fact, these guys could be pretty adroit and dishing out some tough love, a la “The Underdog” and its throat-cutting refrain of “You’ve got no fear of the underdog / That’s why you will not survive”. The surface-friendly “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb” likewise comes packed with hard-earned wisdom and volatile imagery. I’m not going to say, then, that the album comes to a HEAD, necessarily, with “Finer Feelings,” the penultimate track, as “Black Like Me” happens to be one of my favorite album closeurs in all of indie rock (actually “Vittorio E” bookending this band’s Kill the Moonlight album is no hack either). 

There is though a way that “Finer Feelings” stands out from the rest of the album, lyrically, and perhaps even from the rest of the group’s catalogue, and this involves its element of satire. Singer Britt Daniel sets the scene initially with the lines “Memphis comes creeping down my back / Somehow this place tastes just like an attack / A hundred yard stare of a case / Lord knows I’ll never miss it”. Now, one thing you’ll notice about this song, in terms of its lyrical structure, is that the chorus, by comparison, is pretty optimistic, or “fuddy-duddy,” even, to the point where you pretty much know something is going on, actually. For this portion of the song, Daniel proclaims “Sometimes I think that I found a love / One that’s gonna change my heart / And I find it in commercial appeal / And then this heartache could get chased away”. The “commercial appeal” element has been established as a theme in the song already, by way of Daniel’s mention, referring to someone apparently in Memphis, that “They told me ‘Start scouting the field’ / They told me how to look in commercial appeal / Start gettin’ that haircut sharp”. 

The obvious assumption, anyway, of what’s going on here, would be that all this stuff serves to make Daniel markedly uncomfortable. All of the imagery at work seems very cold, sterile, and finally, ambitious toward achieving this shallow bastion of “commercial appeal,” and so Daniel chooses to make fun of it. He takes the typical paradigm of how to “make it big” in a show-biz type place, making money by transmitting matters of the heart, and flips it on its head: now, per the parodical message of the song, it’s his goal to assuage his “heartache” by finding “commercial appeal.” Certainly, the shallowness of the whole thing is weighing on his constitution, amidst a bevy of good-ol’-boys trying to “make it,” and maybe he wanted to play with the notion of how commercial success is something that lives adjacent to “vision” and “satisfaction of the heart,” if you will or all of the things you’d think would spawn or encompass happiness. The joke then, of the association of the success with vision becoming an actual driving force behind said vision, reminds me of the Soul Coughing song “Supra Genius” and Mike Doughty’s playful line “You say correlation is not causation”. Hey, there’s more room for logical fallacy jokes in this stuff than you’d sometimes think. 


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