SPOON: Steady Wins

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

It’d be an exaggeration to say that Spoon rose like a phoenix after they were unceremoniously dropped from the major label Elektra in the late ‘90s. Since then, the Austin, Texas, band’s comeback was a gradual one. They took their time regrouping, slowly building a following as they released a string of acclaimed albums on the indie label Merge.

It’d be an exaggeration to say that Spoon rose like a phoenix after they were unceremoniously dropped from the major label Elektra in the late ‘90s. Since then, the Austin, Texas, band’s comeback was a gradual one. They took their time regrouping, slowly building a following as they released a string of acclaimed albums on the indie label Merge.

Each of these albums outsold the previous one, generating more buzz around the band until they finally spilled from the college radio circuit over into popular culture with 2005’s Gimme Fiction, an album that lent its songs to soundtracks for movies like Wedding Crashers and Stranger Than Fiction, as well as television shows like Bones, Scrubs and Veronica Mars. It took about a decade, but now Spoon appears to be at the tail end of their transformation from indie darlings to radio stars. Somewhere, an impatient Elektra executive must be kicking himself.

Spoon’s iconic frontman, Britt Daniel-a charming, boy-next-door of a singer who emotes his lyrics with a distinct Texan drawl-is keeping his fingers crossed that the band’s latest album, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, could finally be their big, big break.

“This is like the fourth-let’s see, one, two, three, four-yeah, the fourth album we’ve recorded for Merge, and each one has been bigger than the one before, so that’s what we’re aiming for with this one,” Daniel says, “but I have no idea how the public will react to it. Nothing is guaranteed in my mind.”

Daniel has always delighted in eschewing verse-chorus-verse songwriting conventions. The typical Spoon song is almost primal in its repetition of chords and its use of percussive claps and clatter. When the tempos speed up, their riffs turn into driven, infectious pop nuggets. When they’re slowed down, they reveal off-kilter torch songs, usually seeped in studio effects.

On Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, a lean, 10-track album, the songs are particularly fractured. In some cases, they’re literally bits and pieces of whole songs. “My Little Japanese Cigarette Case,” for instance, was written as an acoustic song, then a quiet piano number before Daniel gutted it and turned it into a tense rock song.

“It originally had all these extra passages of lyrics in it, too, and even a different section of the song that was like a chorus,” Daniel explains, “but I felt like those didn’t really work, so I ended up just going with the parts of the song I felt worked best, and kept using them over and over again.”

Because Daniel writes with such a narrow focus, emphasizing scattered details over grand themes, Spoon’s songs can come across as modest, perhaps even un-ambitious, but Daniel says he’s writing in the tradition of songsmiths like Paul Simon.

“Paul Simon will have something really interesting that he’s writing about, but then he’ll go off on this tangent that’s just colorful language,” Daniel says. “It’s really interesting, but you don’t necessarily know where he’s coming from. It’s all these details from a big picture that you don’t actually want to look at; you just want to look at the little details.”

“I never thought that there had to be a big meaning behind any song,” Daniel adds. “Usually when there is, I’m kind of turned off.”

It’s fitting that Daniel brings up Paul Simon, since more than any other Spoon outing, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga taps ‘60s influences. The Jon Brion-produced track “The Underdog,” for instance, is a Van Morrison-styled jaunt complete with celebratory horn accompaniment, while the set-closer, “Black Like Me,” is a Beatles-esque plea for companionship.

While the last pair of Spoon albums were marked by a good-times vibe, perfect for cruising around to on warm day, on much of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Daniel tempers his cocky swagger in favor of something more genuine. When he isn’t inviting the listener to clap along-or, as he would yowl, “come on!“-he’s exposing his vulnerable side, albeit while hiding, behind vague lyrics and his plucky demeanor.

“Some of these songs are real personal to me,” he says. “I mean, I’ve got a feeling for all of them, but there are some that are really about what was going on with my heart, you know?”

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