Why is it that supposed “supergroups” often sound exactly the way you imagine them sounding, only just a hair less exciting? When the formation of Divine Fits — a trio made up of Wolf Parade/Handsome Furs’ Dan Boeckner and Spoon’s Britt Daniel, along with New Bomb Turks’ Sam Brown — was announced a couple of months ago, it was tempting to be skeptical. If it wasn’t for the consistent quality in Boeckner and Daniel’s work, I probably would have written the whole project off entirely and waited for their next “proper” albums to drop. But given their respective back catalogues, I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised that their debut full length A Thing Called Divine Fits would yield similarly impressive results.
Boeckner’s contributions should be instantly familiar to anyone who has spent some time with the synth-pop of Handsome Furs and on the same note, Daniel’s tracks often don’t sound too far off from most Spoon songs. Both the typically spare “Flaggin a Ride” or “Would That Not Be Nice” would have fit neatly on Transference, and “My Love is Real” could be mistaken for a Handsome Furs’ song. So in that sense, the band really doesn’t challenge expectations a whole lot. Not to say it always works out so obviously; after all, the Boeckner-sung “What Gets You Alone” has much more in common with Spoon than with his prior bands’ work. If you’re already sensing that there really isn’t a whole lot here that isn’t reminiscent of at least one of the three bands Boeckner and Daniel are associated with, you’d be absolutely correct, though it’s not necessarily unwelcome. The two artists are great at what they do and apparently have a lot more in common than anyone would had probably noticed. That the band members are already so comfortable in their own skin is what makes the album a satisfying listen. A Thing Called Divine Fits is brimming with confidence and it shines through in the most positive ways.
Take an album highlight like “Shivers,” wherein the desperation on display is powerful. The song is built on a pretty generic chord progression but Daniel’s delivery is anything but. Sounding as though he’s at the end of his rope, he lashes out that his lover “makes me feel so ill at ease/ my heart is really on its knees/ but I wear a poker face so well.” The song swells so intensely to the stomping chorus, it can be awfully unnerving in the best possible way. And even at his most soul-baring, Daniel still has a clever sense of humor declaring, “my baby’s so vain, she’s almost a mirror.” His delivery here is emblematic of the album as a whole; it’s brimming with an electricity and intensity you might not necessarily expect from two such seasoned veterans. Boeckner’s acoustic “Civilian Stripes” is nearly equally as gripping and is as vibrant as any of his past work.
So to answer my original question, often times supergroups are relatively safe affairs where all parties involved are too busy consciously staying humble to create anything truly challenging. Granted, this isn’t a supergroup in the Chickenfoot sense, but on the one hand, Divine Fits feels too recognizable to truly escape this fate. On the other hand, Divine Fits still managed to churn out a wonderfully inspired album; one that finds two artists coming together to make a cohesive work out of their respective styles. If the album isn’t quite as satisfying as any given Spoon or Handsome Furs album, it comes awfully close. Ultimately, that’s good enough for me.