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'Gimme Fiction' is the new CD
Mind-bending with Spoon
by Mark Anderson

poon began a June show at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland with the first song from the band's recent CD.

Britt Daniel and Spoon: five out of five impressive albums in roughly 10 years. ["Spoon Man," by Mary Bergherr]

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, succinct songwriter.

Kill 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 acoustic guitars.

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.

Girls 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!

A Series Of Sneaks: 1998.
Telephono: 1996.

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 years.

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 jazz.

Gimme Fiction: 2005 (visit the Web site).

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 'n' roll.

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.


E-mail Mark at andersonenterprises@hotmail.com, and see more tripewriter.



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