Fiction' is the new CD
began a June show at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland with the first
song from the band's recent CD.
Daniel and Spoon: five out of five impressive albums in roughly
10 years. ["Spoon Man," by Mary
Partway through, shortly after singing "... when
you believe, they call it rock 'n' roll," Britt Daniel turned
toward his drummer and strummed a several-second solo so fierce
that the strings threatened to rip from the face of his guitar.
With relative calm, the lanky Daniel spun back to
the microphone and finished his smoldering mid-tempo concoction,
"The Beast and Dragon, Adored" as alluring and
uncompromising as anything likely to pass for music all year.
Then, for two hours more, Daniel and his three mates
put forth an unflinching set of songs as tough and tasty as those
of any band that comes easily to mind.
Indeed, one would struggle to name a trio of recent
releases better than this year's Gimme Fiction, 2002's Kill
the Moonlight and Girls Can Tell, from 2001.
Nearly as good are the two before that: A Series
of Sneaks (1998; the band's only major-label effort) and Telephono
(the 1996 debut). Both employ a punkier, younger-man's attitude,
as nearly half of the 28 songs clock in around two minutes or less
while still managing to show the early evolution of a distinct,
the Moonlight: 2002.
This all adds up to five out of five impressive albums
in roughly 10 years.
Increasingly, Spoon's recordings have added keyboards,
strings and other art-minded flourishes to a signature sound of
crunchy guitars, unexpected chord changes and cool, cryptic lyrics.
Handclaps, tambourine and shakers are always well placed and never
overdone. Gimme Fiction even builds several songs around
If forced to drop names for comparison's sake, middle-period
Beatles and early Steely Dan might aptly apply, along with an occasional
funky falsetto twist remindful of Prince, more than a little Rolling
Stones swagger, some vintage Elvis Costello, a shot of Jonathan
Richman's Modern Lovers and a bit of Beck mixed in.
Spoon's recordings sound pretty damn good.
Meanwhile, back at the crowded, gloriously smoke-free
Crystal Ballroom, things started out a little shaky. The Clientele,
a London band serving as opening act, seemed mostly intent on playing
a dozen variations of what sounded like the selfsame song.
But suddenly, as the stage got set for Spoon, the
house music went up extra loud and on came "All
the Critics Love You in New York," followed by several more
offerings from the far reaches of Prince's 1999.
Can Tell: 2001.
The night roared to life.
Spoon settled in quickly. Daniel's voice is considerably
more consistent on CD, but he bears an effortlessly kinetic presence
on stage and the trade-off is more than fair. Much as most of the
album credits belong to Daniel (only drummer Jim Eno has been along
since the band's 1994 beginnings), Daniel's guitar, songs and singing
are the evening's obvious raison d'être.
Near the show's middle, the band launched into "Sister
Jack," maybe Gimme Fiction's catchiest song.
Over the song's final minute and by shrewd design,
Daniel drops in an extra beat, a hitch that repeats in the chorus
the rare sort of bent that basically shouts: Hey! I'm
different! Listen again to me!
Series Of Sneaks: 1998.
In fact, the song and its mid-concert placement provided
a golden moment, at once epitomizing expectation already realized
and promise about to be kept a satisfying combination that
doesn't present itself all that freely after 30-some concertgoing
Yet, by making things seem so ongoingly effortless,
perhaps Daniel has created himself a considerable problem.
Here's what longtime music journalist Robert
Christgau, the self-described dean of American rock critics,
wrote in a June Village Voice review of Gimme Fiction: "I
wish this was still a world where the right guitar noise and a heaping
helping of hooks were sustenance enough. But though I can imagine
putting this on at year's end and remembering every song with a
kind of surprised admiration, I can't imagine doing it any sooner
or any later either. Until their next album, anyway. This
one's selling, so there'll be another."
Is there ever a good reason for lazy listening, backhanded
compliments and glib assumptions?
Sales of Spoon's prior two albums are said to be fewer
than 100,000 combined. And although the new album reportedly sold
20,000 units its first week back in May, it hasn't necessarily flown
out of stores ever since.
Spoon, a product of Austin, represents a blue oasis
in a sea of Texas red a city reputed (not unlike Portland)
to have a guitarist on every block and twice as many drummers. Much
is made in these parts about supporting visual artists and their
art. Certainly those same concerns hold true for musical artists,
too. Tax dollars, corporate monsters, eating the rich and all that
Fiction: 2005 (visit the Web
Three straight great albums is tough and five out
of five seems nearly impossible. It's a rare situation that needs
celebration. Sure, it's still rock 'n' roll for those who still
believe. But we can't hardly believe what we'll never get to hear.
Let Coldplay sell a gazillion units (a million-plus
in its first two weeks). Lord knows the industry needs a cash cow
these days and they've certainly plied us with far worse. Coldplay's
new album has merits but it's closer to easy listening than rock
So it's up to us to figure out how best to turn the
world upside down and shake some change from the rich people's pockets.
Because in a world such as this, the prospect of Britt
Daniel seeking his fortune by selling real estate rather than making
lots more music is sadly, mind-bendingly wrong.