Like Alex Chilton, master songwriter and frontman for the power-pop group Big Star, Britt Daniels of Spoon is a sensitive guy with a gift for melody. And like Big Star, Spoon have suffered more than their share of music biz misfortune: Unceremoniously dropped from Elektra Records just after their second album was released, they”ve bounced from Matador to Merge to the tiny Saddle Creek label. Thus relegated to obscurity, Spoon”s brand of pop/rock sparse, hook-laden, resonant has been criminally underappreciated, just as Big Star”s elegantly Beatlesque output slipped past “70s record-buyers like a stranger in a crowd.
But unlike such power-pop revivalists as Matthew Sweet and Teenage Fanclub, Spoon don”t cop Big Star”s sound so much as their M.O. poppy yet emotionally deep, catchy but never gimmicky. What”s more, Daniels is a “90s guy, less earnest and less mopey than Chilton ever was. Which isn”t to say he”s much for mainstream rockers like Stephan Jenkins or indie torchbearers like Stephen Malkmus his hooks are neither glossed-over nor fuzzed-out, and he”d rather write songs for twenty-somethings who”re smart enough to avoid Modern Rock radio but aren”t necessarily smart*asses.*
Amid this happy marriage of tune and affect, Daniels and his mates pack Girls Can Tell”s 11 tracks full of angst-y vocals, Elvis Costello-like punchiness, early Police-style grooves. They keep those grooves extra sparse for “Believing Is Art,” a hard-drivin”, minor-key tour-de-force, then shift gears for “10:20 AM,” a wickedly melodic baroque pop number worthy of Chilton at his most tuneful. But while those tunes stick out right away, the real treat comes when you listen to this record the fourth or fifth time: As “Everything Hits at Once” and “This Book Is a Movie” bear witness, melodies that had sounded nondescript suddenly come alive, lyrics that seemed non-sequiturs suddenly make sense.
And though it”s too bad that “Fitted Shirt” which unselfconsciously pilfers the groove of Led Zep”s “Kashmir” doesn”t use a better medium than nostalgia for the well-fitting apparel of yore to express the sorrow inherent in losing one”s innocence, growing up, etc., it”s clear that Girls Can Tell is not only Spoon”s best record, it”s also one of the finest rock albums that”ll be released this year. Alex Chilton should be proud, and Elektra execs should be kicking themselves.