Spoon returns with a funkier edge on 'They Want My Soul'
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
Kicking off a record with just a drum smacking is a quintessentially Spoon move. There’s the beat, spare and open, pounding and thumping with no other accompaniment to announce the oncoming 40 minutes of music and the return of one of the great artists in the sphere of songs that can be carried along with nothing more than minimal percussion.
But that drum sound is not the typical, bass-heavy beat that has made so much of their music instantly recognizable. It’s brighter and airer, with almost a hint of pop readiness. This is all in the first 10 seconds of “Rent I Pay” and They Want My Soul, the first Spoon album since 2010’s Transference. It’s a statement and a return and a signal that the band has not necessarily returned to the status quo after being on the shelf for a bit.
That time away has changed the surface of the band’s music, to a degree, but not the substance. Take “Knock Knock Knock,” driven by an acoustic guitar and given a treatment of processed drums and synthetic strings flying in and out through the verses. But at its core, Brit Daniel is still spinning his story, another cautionary and possibly accusitory tale delivered with his trademark disaffected allure. He’s always had the ability to assert a strong sense of control over his music, and that’s still alive here, dangling the words and snatching them back while chaos seems to reign around him.
That kind of confidence is abundent on this album. “Knock Knock Knock” is followed by “Outlier,” a straight disco trip that makes no bones about technological or historical differences that the song might present when stacked among the rest of the Spoon catalog. This song jumps out of the speakers, and instead of simply hiding behind its infectious beat, it showes all the marks of pure songcraft, dropping out at the breakdown before giving in to its own rhythm. It’s four minutes that feels like two, and it’s a new way for Spoon to operate.
There are dance excursions, as on “Outlier,” or the synth declaration of the closing “New York Kiss,” that maintain the space of an otherwise typical Spoon track. But even when they really stretch out and test their audience’s expectations, there’s nothing here that should keep any longtime listener away. There, then, lies the best trick of this album.
Pop leanings are nothing new for this band, though. Even if they’re packaged in more accessible ways on They Want My Soul, that sense of melody delivered within a compact song is what has made Spoon’s music so effective and exciting for so long. Here, it’s sent into the listeners’ ears straight through the AM dial. It still sounds comfortable even as it takes on a new shine.
This can be danced to. It can be played in the car, or at the gym, or at a party. Or it can be played in those solitary moments. By embracing new avenues and textures, Spoon has recorded an album that lives wherever it wants, outside of time or situation. That drum beats down several different doors.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org