Written by Max Freedman
Prior to the announcement of Spoon’s eighth album, They Want My Soul, the band posted a photo to their Facebook page that read, “Spoon R.I.P. June 10.” After releasing seven albums across nearly two decades, it might’ve been tempting to think this post would lead up to some sort of extravagant announcement that Spoon would, sadly, be calling it quits. Although teasing a break-up is certainly untraditional, it wouldn’t have been terribly surprising coming from Spoon for a couple of reasons. After they released their divisive seventh album, Transference, in 2010, songwriter Britt Daniel briefly formed a new band, Divine Fits; also, musicians working together for nearly two decades sometimes break up as the quality of their output declines. Would it turn out that Spoon were, after such a long run, dead?
Thankfully, no. “R.I.P.” turned out to stand for “Rent I Pay”, the first single from They Want My Soul. Fast forward two months to the album’s hotly anticipated release, and it’s safe to say that the under-appreciated Transference was just a minor dent in an impossibly solid catalog: They Want My Soul may be Spoon’s best album other than their two veritable modern classics, the ambitious, widely worshipped Kill the Moonlight, and the poppy, soulful Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. The latter album, Spoon’s best (an uncommon, but not ridiculous, opinion among fans), foreshadows They Want My Soul nicely; in fact, They Want My Soul feels like the logical follow-up to Ga that Transference occasionally failed to be. It further expands upon the pop motifs explored on Ga in roughly the same run time, but does so in a few different, yet equally exciting, ways.
A handful of They Want My Soul’s songs succeed because they’re songs that only Spoon could’ve written. “Rent I Pay,” “Let Me Be Mine,” and “Knock Knock Knock” all display the band’s various trademarks: off-kilter guitar lines, pounding pianos, smashing percussion, and Britt Daniel’s raspy, uneasy words that may well be meaningless. On TWMS, though, these characteristics come together to form Spoon’s most pop-centered, straightforward songs yet, as exemplified by these songs and, in particular, second single and album highlight “Do You.” This song is an undeniable summer anthem, drenched in major-key acoustics, propulsive but steady percussion, and thrilling pianos. Daniel has rarely sounded so riled up on the mic, which is a big statement for someone who’s made a career of being one of indie rock’s most soulful frontmen.
That a band whose weirdness is as subtle as Spoon’s have written their pop album, so to speak, this late in the game testifies to one of TWMS’s biggest strengths: confidence. Even its songs that cover no new ground entertain and resonate because they’re so staggeringly brazen. “Rainy Taxi” could reasonably be thrown onto any of Spoon’s post-Kill The Moonlight albums, but it’s so assertive that it falls upon the ears unforgettably. “I Just Don’t Understand”, a cover of an Ann-Margaret tune that the Beatles also famously covered, could’ve been conceived in the time between Gimme Fiction and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, but sounds novel and enticing since its swagger is so overwhelming. The title track also benefits from this consistent aplomb, as its blatant meta-reference of “Jonathan Fisk” enthralls when it could simply seem desperate and immature.
Although Spoon’s confidence throughout TWMS blesses them with an ability to write in the same modes they’ve previously explored, its’ most important contribution lies in the three songs that actually do show the band evolving. Had Spoon approached creating this album timidly, their experiments with electronic music, a new medium for them, would either fall flat or not exist at all. “Outlier,” one of these songs, is well-named: synth flashes form this song’s perimeter, pianos are completely absent, and guitars only move forward to the mainframe once the song is halfway done. It’s certainly a new approach for Spoon, but it pays off in spades here, and even more so on “New York Kiss” and especially “Inside Out.” The former track could be a case of Spoon ghostwriting for Metric or the Killers: who knew a band that has every right to feel jaded would instead end their eighth album with a new wave tune and make it one of the album’s best songs? It’s “Inside Out”, though, that really testifies to how affecting Spoon can be when they expand past their usual boundaries. A woozy array of synth sparkles and bloops eliminates the presence of guitars and pianos, two Spoon trademarks, for what Britt Daniel described to The Guardian as “the most beautiful thing [Spoon has] done.”
And he might not be wrong. “Inside Out” is a gorgeous, moving song, a label not applicable to most of Spoon’s catalog. A traditional Spoon song is viscerally enjoyable because of how warped, jarring, and rickety it is, but “Inside Out” is, indeed, “beautiful.” In fact, TWMS fits pop’s standard definition of musical beauty more so than any Spoon album to date (Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is a close second, not to be forgotten). It’s a wise move late in their career, although at this pace, Spoon might last forever, making that premonitory “R.I.P.” pretty invalid.