Spoon returns reinvigorated with 'They Want My Soul'

Loma Vista

By Brian Burlage, Daily Arts Writer
Published August 6, 2014

Before he was ever the lead singer of Spoon, Britt Daniel was just a kid growing up in Temple, Texas. Throughout his teen years, Daniel and his friends experimented with different genres in different bands: rock, psychedelic rock, folk, country, blues. In 1993, he formed The Alien Beats with future Spoon drummer Jim Eno, and further refined his talent exploring rockabilly, western swing, boogie, bluegrass and blues. With the Beats, Daniel’s broad musical range narrowed in and focused on groove. What makes Spoon’s new album They Want My Soul so intriguing and entertaining is its inherent groove: a danceable, head-bobbing buoyancy that is character to each of the 10 tracks.

They Want My Soul

Loma Vista

In many ways, Spoon did with this album what Arcade Fire did in 2013 with Reflektor. While Arcade Fire infused disco into classic rock structures, Spoon infuses rockabilly and blues with newer alternative songwriting techniques. After a long hiatus, Spoon met in the studio to begin work on They Want My Soul. With fresh ears, a rejuvenated interest in rock’s core and a raw enthusiasm, Daniel directed the band toward the sound that had been incubating in his head.

“Rent I Pay” is the album’s opener and it begins with a kick-step drumbeat. A lone guitar putters and floats along freely. Suddenly, another guitar flickers into motion, producing a razor-like edge to the offbeat. After a few seconds, a third guitar chimes in with acidic buzz, and then the song takes off. It’s a half a minute into the album and Spoon is already strutting along with the swagger and hard-knocks attitude of Tom Petty and Jim Morrison. “Out amongst the stars and the stones/Every kind of fortune gets old,” Daniel sings. This might feel, act and sound like a Spoon album but don’t expect just the same old song and dance.

Producers Joe Chiccarelli and Dave Fridmann elevate Spoon’s sound to a kind of sonic crossroads. The album is catchy, gritty, glitzy, and, above all, new. Chiccarelli and Fridmann – in their first collaboration with Spoon – help deliver a product of limitless application, a new and vital blending of styles that buzzes, hums and hisses throughout. Their production adds impressive depth by zeroing in on instrument orchestration. Three writhing guitars, a staccato bass and a booming drumbeat don’t sound busy together because Chiccarelli and Fridmann compartmentalize their individual power. Each track feels, in a sense, as though it’s being played and recorded in one large open room that displaces noise and distributes the weight. The result is a sound of rich textures and overlaps that are rendered beautifully into little treasure-troves of personality.

This division of sound caters well to Spoon’s great talent: that layered, mechanical rhythm. The space between beats is filled entirely with distorted pitch and bursts of color. They Want My Soul carries a strength about it, like Daniel inspired the group to roll up their sleeves, punch their biceps and flex. The songs inflate without ever overwhelming. “I Just Don’t Understand” is a roadhouse-blues number with piano sequences in obscure time measures, expanding to touch all points of the scale. “New York Kiss” employs watery, murky tones that spill across the song’s layers while the bass/beat interplay provides a sinister backdrop. “Inside Out” begins with a xylophone intro, then drizzles in synth to create a wash of energy. These are only a few of the 10 tracks that perpetuate the album’s overarching tenacity. And Daniel asks us, “Do you feel it black and blue?” In other words, are you hearing this with your ears or your heart?

For all the album’s stampeding and rampaging, there’s a certain steadiness settled within the framework that makes the unrest seem calculated. For the past four years, Brit Daniel has been listening to music the way he always has – without boundary or bias. What makes the past four years different is that with all the hype and commercialism, all the concerts and concert politics, tours and tour organizers, labels and executives, Daniel has had a specific reason to listen to music the way he does.

Somewhere in the vast scheme of his music collection, there was an escape from the corporate conundrum, a way back to the core of authenticity, and he found it. In 37-and-a-half minutes, Spoon dispels all the bullshit, tears down the rafters, lights the place ablaze and skips town, leaving nothing behind but burning fumes and dirt. They’re not about to lose their soul anytime soon.