Spoon - They Want My Soul

by Ethan Ranis Rating:8.5 Release Date:2014-08-05

Pop quiz, class. Do you like Spoon? If you answered a) Yes, you're excused. Go on and buy They Want My Soul, and rejoice that they're back after a four-year absence and in fine form. If you answered b) No, then you may also leave. This record will not change your mind. But if you answered c) Undecided, then you get to stay for the lecture. They Want My Soul could be a good gateway drug to one of indie-rock's most accomplished groups, but you should know what you're getting into.

Spoon have always been master tunesmiths, boiling down classic rock to its essentials and injecting just enough off-kilter experimentalism and bruised poetry (via frontman Britt Daniel's perpetually jagged croon) to provide a unique angle. Despite the band having at least one certified smash hit to its name (Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga's 'The Underdog'), They Want My Soul is only their second record to actually be released on a major label and the first to be given any kind of push (A Series of Sneaks was infamously recorded at Elektra but dumped on release, causing the band to beat a hasty retreat to Merge Records).  

The shift back up to the majors provides a notable layer of polish to the band's well-established production tricks (closely-layered audio, precision use of samples and found sounds, interesting panning). The sounds here practically leap out of the speakers, with the effects and incidental noises successfully serving as accents on the instrumental work. This is probably most evident on 'Knock Knock Knock', which combines shrieking, swooping strings and bracing feedback with more soothing "ooh ooh" backing vocals to elevate a straightforward song into a gripping experience.

'Knock Knock Knock' also pulls off a very neat trick by fading into the left speaker while 'Outlier' enters to the right. The latter song is a new style for the band, channeling some of the dancey, Blondie-esque glitz that TV on the Radio and Yeah Yeah Yeahs explored a few years ago. Closer 'New York Kiss' is also covered in a plush bed of synths. 

Many of these tricks are attributable to super-producer Dave Fridmann (known for his work with MGMT and The Flaming Lips). However, sometimes these layers of glitz can prove a bit much, like on 'Do You' which layers distortion and reverb to the point of sounding busy.

But make no mistake, there's a fair number of songs which sound like 'classic Spoon' here, notably lead single 'Rent I Pay', with its swaggering, pounding drums and the title track, which even throws in a cute reference to Kill the Moonlight's standout track 'Jonathan Fisk'. The band's cover of 'I Just Don't Understand' similarly slots in perfectly with the rest of their discography. Like always, the songs are catchy, tuneful, and calibrated with just the right amount of heartbreak.

Overall, this is probably Spoon's poppiest and most polished work since Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, and it's got a surplus of soul to go around in its relatively brief 37-minute runtime. If you're new to the band, this is an excellent entry point to a sterling and fantastically consistent body of work, and perfect listening for the end of summer.

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