Spoon: Gimme Fiction (Re-Imagined)

Right from the very beginning Spoon was never a band content with sitting still. A distinct line of evolution is discernible between every album (and even EPs, in some cases). 1998’s A Series Of Sneaks (and especially its predecessor, the Soft Effects EP) was a great leap forward from Telephono, the inauspicious debut of a bunch of Texas kids bred on Wire and The Pixies. Follow-up Girls Can Tell showed Britt Daniels had a much broader scope of musical influences. On it he displayed a more personal and lyrically detailed side to his songwriting, and introduced a soulful, balanced band sound that relied on keyboards nearly as much as piercing guitar work. And Kill The Moonlight, one of 2002’s brightest indie-rock moments, took the pop influences that were beginning to surface in the music and stripped them down to their skeletal minimum - the perfect accompaniment for Daniel’s frightened, starving, razor-sharp songs.

By that point Spoon had reached the upper-echelon of independent American bands. They toured heavily, as the fan interest had caught up to the critical acclaim, and set out to record the follow-up in late 2004. In the spring of 2005 the band emerged with Gimme Fiction, an album that continued the band’s evolution by streamlining their signature sound into something a bit more polished and radio-friendly. It’s a well-produced set of songs that were more fleshed out that any the band had released in years. The guitar solos came early and often in “The Beast and Dragon, Adored” and “My Mathematical Mind”, housing some of Britt Daniel’s most inspired 6-string anti-heroics. There were brilliantly written and executed indie pop-rock songs in “The Two Sides Of Msr. Valentin“ and “I Summon You”, and with “I Turn My Camera On” and “Sister Jack”, the perfect vehicles for some much-deserved crossover attention.

On paper, Gimme Fiction sounds like an overwhelming success, and for all intents and purposes, it certainly is. I’d put the first 7 tracks up against any other album of the decade in terms of quality and consistency. Unfortunately for us demanding perfectionists who enjoy their records playable from start to finish, Gimme Fiction doesn’t fully satisfy. After the final strums of “I Summon You” there is an obvious drop in song quality over the Gimme Fiction’s final act. “The Infinite Pet” and “Was It You” sound like the band self-consciously trying to be artsy and challenging, “They Never Got You” has a nervy, 80s pop feel to it but comes across as little more than a unfinished demo, and “Merchants Of Soul” aimlessly brings the album to an unmemorable conclusion. Don’t get me wrong, on the strength of its opening run Gimme Fiction is an excellent album, but as with The Replacements’ Tim and Wilco’s A Ghost Is Born, there was potential for it to be much stronger, start to finish.

Luckily for us Spoon was in quite a prolific state at the time of Gimme Fiction’s recording. There were a handful of tracks recorded that were used as b-sides and bonus tracks that are considerably stronger than a few of the album’s lesser moments. So, the following is nothing more than how I wish the album were released. If it had been I think I’d be talking about my favorite Spoon album, instead of one with just a remarkable opening 2/3.

1 - The Beast And Dragon, Adored
2 - Two Sides of Monsieur Valentin
3 - I Turn My Camera On
4 - My Mathematical Mind
5 - The Delicate Place
6 - Sister Jack
7 - I Summon You

8 - MP3 :: Monkey Feelings (from the Sister Jack U.S. single. Buy here) - no, this song isn’t reinventing the wheel of indie-pop songs, but it’s drum-tight rhythm is prime Spoon and Daniel throws some really nice harmonies on top.

9 - My First Time Volume 3 (Itunes exclusive) - sorry, no mp3 here. But this song, well worth the $.99 price tag, features the same sort of slinky bass work as “I Turn My Camera On” and that falsetto voice that brings the babes out to the shows.

10 - MP3 :: Sunday Morning, Wednesday Night (from the Sister Jack import single. Buy here) - placed at this point on the album, this track breaks up the string of up-tempo songs preceding it, and shows the band hadn’t forgotten its way around an echoed, moody, strangely beautiful ballad.

11 - MP3 :: Carryout Kids (bonus track from Gimme Fiction) - this is exactly the type of song Gimme Fiction was lacking - a daring sonic assault that features a manic, keyboard dominant arrangement. Here it finishes off the album as a link between Kill the Moonlight and the haunted atmospherics of “The Ghost Of You Lingers”.

Again, I’m not trying to knock this album - Spoon has probably become my favorite working band over the past 4 or 5 years. But, what do you think about this re-imagining? Leave well enough alone? Do these tracks improve on an already impressive album? Leave a comment, share a thought or 2….


Nate said...

Great re-imagining of this album. I loved this record when I first got it, but as I listened to it more and more, I started to notice that I'd skip over a few songs and pay more attention to others.

The addition of the various B-sides and singles, all of which I own (save "Monkey Feelings") is a good move. Sunday Morning, Wednesday Night and My First Time Vol.3 are two of my fav latter-day Spoon songs and definitely bridge between "Gimmie Fiction" and "Gax5."

Nice work and a great segment. I look forward to the next one.

John said...

Interesting take, I do like the B-Sides you added, although I haven't heard the bonus track or itunes download yet. I used to agree that the last half of the album was sub par, however I stumbled on an interesting rumor on the internets which has since changed my opinion.

Someone interviewing Britt asked him if the rumor that Gimme Fiction was meant to be played backwards was true, and he said no. This however, piqued my curiosity, so I created a backwards playlist and gave it a (metaphorical) spin. I have to say, that though it obviously wasn't meant to be played backwards (see the sound effect cues on songs like They Never Got You and Mr. Valentine), however that doesn't mean it wasn't a better experience.

I found that the problem isn't that the end of the album is bad, it's just that the front is too good. Although I still don't think it required three 4+ min songs, the end is actually quite good. Merchants of Soul makes a good opener and They Never Got You propels the album forward. Instead of blowing it's wad upfront, Gimme Fiction now builds from good to great, with nearly every song better than the last. Plus, The Beast and Dragon, Adored, is a mind-blowing way to end an album. Food for thought.