Album Review - Spoon, "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga"

Three times during a 5-year period (‘98-‘02) Spoon pushed their sonic envelope to dizzying new heights. A Series Of Sneaks offered a full realization of the brilliance that the Soft Effects EP suggested - airtight rock songs played with a Wire-like precision. After some infamous label turmoil, Spoon returned in 2001 with Girls Can Tell - a record that displayed a more personal and lyrically detailed side to Britt Daniel’s songwriting, and introduced a soulful, balanced band sound that relied on keyboards as much as the piercing guitar work of earlier records. Kill The Moonlight followed the next year and destroyed all notions of what Spoon were capable of. It featured their strongest material yet, stripped down to its skeletal minimum - the perfect accompaniment for Daniel’s frightened, starving, razor-sharp pop songs.

But any time a band sets about reinventing itself with every album, purposefully or organically, it runs the risk of a harsh critical backlash if they eventually falter. Gimme Fiction was released in 2005, and for the first time found the band making a record that just sounded like a Spoon record “should” - free of overt experimentation or attempts to confound expectations. It was simply a batch of great songs played in their by-then patently terse, highly stylized way. Gimme Fiction boasted Spoon's most fully realized production yet, as well as an opening run (tracks 1-7) that saw the band joyfully tossing out a string of songs that were among their most accessible ever. They even found time to expand their sound on the sly disco-trounce of “I Turn My Camera On”, a modern indie-rock classic. All of a sudden Spoon found themselves selling out successive nights at New York’s Webster Hall, licensing their music in several television commercials, and even sound-tracking a Will Ferrell led major motion picture (Stranger Than Fiction).

Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is the latest Spoon album, and like Gimme Fiction, it doesn’t find the band doing anything dramatically re-inventive with their sound. As a continued holding pattern to whatever future shifts the band may potentially explore, it again sees them churning out painstakingly detailed power-pop nuggets that rely on rhythm and repetition to make their points. A sort of meeting place between the succinct Kill The Moonlight and the more expansive production of Gimme Fiction, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is a rush of expertly played pop hooks, serrated rhythms, and Daniel’s catchy, concise songwriting, all buzzing by in just 36 streamlined minutes. If it sounds like music to play at a party, then cool; and if it’s not their best album it is certainly their most fun, as well as their most consistently pop conscious.

The songs are decidedly upbeat, only varying on “The Ghost Of You Lingers”, a spectral experiment of a song that, like those on Kill The Moonlight, is musically stripped to its primal core, and “Black Like Me”, a slow-building, heartfelt romp that houses a strong nod to “A Day In The Life”. “Don’t Make Me A Target” is Spoon at their angriest, an emotionally strained gasp that rides a repetitive riff and rhythm to a climactic, distortion-fueled solo. The shimmering “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb” and “Rhthm & Soul” are prime Spoon rockers - hints of 60’s pop, 80’s New Wave, a mix of electric and acoustic guitars, and in the case of “Cherry Bomb”, soulful horn blasts. “Don’t You Evah” and “Eddie’s Ragga” are Clash-like stabs at incorporating a world of musical influences into their sound (dub and soul mostly), and “Finer Feelings” bursts through the gates ready to rock the casbah, brimming with weird sound effects and a huge chorus.

As a musical collective, Spoon has been riding a sustained peak for years, but Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga finds Britt Daniel stepping up his game as an impassioned frontman. Like the band’s music, Daniel’s lyrics slice through all the awkward wordiness of too many lesser singer/songwriters, leaving only the barest essentials. His voice slides confidently between a sexy falsetto and a manic howl, often in the same line. On the terrific first single, “The Underdog”, he and the band sound more invigorated than ever. The only song on the album to feature producer Jon Brion (the rest features long time collaborator Mike McCarthy), it’s a restless stab at the power-pop gold medal. The sumptuous horns and handclaps of the chorus lift what may well be an only slightly-better-than-average Spoon song to soaring new heights. With the song, and album, Spoon have inched ever closer to the commercial territory they have been flirting with for a few years now while still remaining true to their own artistic vision. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is a rock and roll celebration - it’s 4th of July music one week too late - sizzling hot and ready to explode in a burst of color and noise.

MP3 :: The Underdog
MP3 :: The Ghost Of You Lingers
(from Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. Buy here)
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Watch the video for “The Underdog” here.
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Stream Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga at the Merge Records website.
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Bonus MP3 :: I Turn My Camera On
(from Gimme Fiction. Buy here)
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Spoon will be playing 2 FREE NYC shows this week:

* Today (Tuesday, 7/10) @ The Virgin Megastore in Union Square at 6:30.
* Tomorrow (Wednesday, 7/11) @ Rockerfeller Park as part of the River to River Festival.

Check here for info on Chicago and San Francisco shows later this week.
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1 comment:

Wayne said...

A rock and roll celebration. It certainly is, I love this new album. May Spoon continue making such great music.