Spoon was on the verge of oblivion when they were dropped from Elektra Records after their second LP Series of Sneaks (1998), but their phoenix-like return Girls Can Tell (2001) established them as a point of light in the muddy, often tedious world of pop/rock. The tight and appropriately cathartic album was appreciated by critics but has been largely ignored in favor of an onslaught of “The (plural noun)” garage-revival acts peppering the airwaves.
Spoon’s follow-up to Girls, Kill the Moonlight, with its stripped-down guitar and percussion, is a sharp departure from the poppy, smooth sound of their previous release. The group retains its pop sensibilities, with threads of Elvis Costello and Big Star woven into its Pixies-influenced rock style.
Frontman Brit Daniel has a voice that ranges from untrained rock (“Small Stakes”) to melodic falsetto (“Stay Don’t Go,” which also stakes indie claim to the percussive beatbox) to vocal tracks with a hint of angsty John Lennon (“Don’t Let it Get You Down” and “All the Pretty Girls go to the City”), and he puts the same emotion into these songs that made his vocals on Girls so refreshing.
The big secret to the success of Moonlight, however, is drummer and producer Jim Eno, whose syncopated, driving drum work gives songs like “Something to Look Forward to,” “Jonathon Fisk” and “Don’t Let it Get You Down” a dirty, Ginger Baker feel that contrasts nicely with Daniel’s pop melodies and unpredictable rhythms.
The album feels more like an experiment than a masterpiece. While pushing the outside of the envelope for a new direction, they missed something. Moonlight’s minimalist mix of twangy guitar, drums and piano is the right course for the group, and it contains a few classics, but it feels like a first draft of their next remarkable album.
Spoon has mined the ore; when they refine it, they may become truly great, but watching their struggle to evolve is as exciting as seeing the final result.