By: Eric Greenwood
Britt Daniel’s minimalist hooks and snarling vocals (think Elvis Costello without the pomposity) have evolved past the imitative on to the inventive on its close to perfect, fifth album Gimme Fiction, which drops some of the dilettantish electronics for a more tribal yet eclectic rock punch.
In its early years, Spoon struggled with mimicking idols from the abrasiveness of Pixies (A Series of Sneaks) to the muffled indie rock bombast of Guided By Voices (Soft Effects). After an abysmal major label experience with Elektra Records, Spoon bounced back on Merge with Girls Can Tell- the touchstone album for Spoon's rapid ascendancy to indie rock darlings. Every single song worked its way into your subconscious, despite Daniel's often-ambiguous lyrical refrains.
On Kill the Moonlight, Daniel's stark minimalism hit its stride, incorporating electronic experimentation, tons of reverb, and even a human beatbox. Daniel's ability to compress his emotions into such an affected delivery was risky because it straddled the line of seeming disingenuous. But pure pop sensibility was on his side in a string of unforgettable singles like "Jonathan Fisk" and "The Way We Get By."
For the first few listens of Gimme Fiction, it sounds as though Spoon has barely altered the formula. The guitars take up more space in the mix, but Daniel's pithy ability to emote with a snarl almost sounds redundant until you realize that the songs themselves are so well constructed it hardly matters.
Sure, Spoon has been here before, but such infectiousness is rarely so consistent. "The Beast and the Dragon, Adored" immediately sets the mood of the record. The threat to rock looms large, but Daniel flirtatiously fights the temptation the whole way through. "The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine" cleverly includes strings and a parallel piano line to compliment the tight rhythmic propulsion.
Daniel's restraint behind the guitar energizes his songs. The less he plays the more you want to hear it. And, strangely, as Gimme Fiction unfurls the less it sounds akin to other Spoon records. It's definitely darker than its two predecessors, despite laid-back and jaunty acoustic numbers like "Sister Jack" and the flawless "I Summon You", and, perhaps, it suffers slightly from a lack of buoyancy evidenced in the latter. But the genius of a song like "I Turn My Camera On" could sustain an entire album in and of itself. It's a Rolling Stones homage through the eyes of Prince as interpreted by Daniel's multi-tracked killer falsetto.
Gimme Fiction isn't as showy as Kill the Moonlight or even Girls Can Tell nor is it as immediately endearing. It's the work of a band that has refined its skills as both composers and as engineers of sound, so there's more depth beneath Daniel's casual grit. Gimme Fiction may not be your favorite Spoon record right now, but give it a few years.