There’s never a wasted note in a Spoon song. Each tiny sound, each riff, each rhythm works in unison to yield a spectacular result. And the finished product is so complete, it often seems incredulous that such minimal elements went into the equation. Still, frontman and songwriter Britt Daniel just makes it look so easy. He’s the epitome of cool, a talented pop composer with an incredible knack for unshakable melodies and no-bullshit musicianship. Though albums like Girls Can Tell and Kill the Moonlight are quite diverse in terms of complexity and density of sound, both display Daniel’s penchant for restraint and raw arrangements. Spoon’s latest effort, Gimme Fiction, is smack dab in the middle of the two, tense and terse, albeit more epic-leaning in parts and slightly more grandiose. Unsurprisingly, it’s yet another great Spoon record.
Those who like Spoon already will take to this record easily, though there’s more to it than that. Those expecting the same raw garage-y sounds of Kill the Moonlight will be caught off guard. This isn’t to say that it’s more like Girls Can Tell either. And it pretty much doesn’t sound anything like Telephono or A Series of Sneaks. Fiction is a far more ambitious effort for Daniel and company. Not because it’s any more stripped-down or beefed-up, however. The songwriting itself is being stretched to new limits as the group explore their capabilities.
The Elvis Costello similarities still lurk, as subtler prog and glam influences have emerged as well. Leadoff track “The Beast and Dragon, Adored” starts out with some descending piano chords, melodically similar to the hook from The Kinks’ “Sunny Afternoon.” But from there the song slowly trudges along, riding a minimal, smoky cool, almost trip-hop groove. On “The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine,” Daniel brings us `round to a more familiar Spoon — a hooky melody, minor-key piano, scratchy guitar chords. Added to this track, however, is a moody dose of cello, pairing well with Daniel’s dramatic, homoerotic lyrics: “Every morning I’ve got a new chance/I wanna play the part of Eddie in the Stranger Dance/He makes love to the duke/He swordfights the queen/He steals the whole show in his last dying scene.”
When we get to “I Turn My Camera On,” the old familiar Spoon gets traded in for a Bee Gees by-way-of Gang of Four funk song in which Daniel declares “You hit me like a tom” before comically ending the song with “here comes the flan.” “My Mathematical Mind,” by comparison, is one of Spoon’s heaviest songs to date. Not that the song is anything like Slayer, but it’s so tightly wound, it seems ready to explode at any moment. One-note piano drives this song, while organ whirrs underneath, guitars squeal out of control and Daniel informs the listener, “Bringing about the apocalypse/is not considered cool.”
“Sister Jack” is the closest thing to a single here, a catchy Big Star-like power pop tune, not unlike Girls Can Tell‘s “Anything You Want.” On “I Summon You,” Daniel takes a turn for the personal, singing about one of his own relationships over a bouncy, but simple acoustic melody. The funk returns on “Was It You?,” a repetitive Krautrock-influenced track, and “The Infinite Pet” is almost like “The Way We Get By” part two, with super-catchy piano hooks and an overall good time vibe.
Gimme Fiction is easily one of Spoon’s most adventurous records, though their progression has been a constant in their career. And in typical fashion, every note is in its right place, no more or less dressed up than it needs to be. And that’s exactly what’s so great about it. There’s never too much or too little. Everything is just right.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.