After a four-year hiatus, Spoon returns this month with their eighth studio album, They Want My Soul. This record marks several firsts for Spoon: their first collaboration with outside producers (Grammy-award-winners Joe Chiccarelli and Dave Fridmann) and their first album with keyboardist Alex Fischel.
Beginning with their 1994 debut, Spoon slowly earned a place as critics’ darlings. In 2001, that niche blew up—with college radio falling in love with the minimalist, beat-driven melodies of Girls Can Tell. Spoon has, ever since, honed catchy, low-key indie pop. They Want My Soul develops out of these traditions, but doesn’t add to them as much as one might hope. It is difficult to compare Soul with the energy and excitement of 2001’s Girls Can Tell or 2007’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. Britt Daniel’s song structures, while always intelligent, expose strains of familiarity that begin to feel, after eight records, too familiar. However, Soul is nevertheless full of shining moments that sound—if nothing else—exactly like Spoon.
Throughout the album, Soul grapples with the desire to run and the avoidance of spiritual capture. In “Rainy Taxi,” Daniel says “if you leave / you better run away for good…if you say ‘run,’ I may run with you.” In the previously released single, “Do You,” Daniel asks, “Do you want one thing or are you looking for sainthood? / Do you run when it’s just getting good?” The very title of the album lets listeners know—before we even become listeners—that there is something from which to run.
Britt Daniel called the ballad “Inside Out” his “favourite song on this record, and it’s the most beautiful thing we’ve done…I don’t really know if I can quantify why it’s so good, but for me it pulls your heartstrings in exactly the right fashion.” The track suggests completion through love rather than spirituality: “I don’t got time for holy rollers…they do not make me complete.” While beautiful, the song lacks gravity: though the lyrics imply a great emotional turmoil, this is difficult to feel in the music. Its beauty is weightless—both in the ethereal quality of its synthesizers and harp strings, and the quiet insistence of Daniel’s vocals. Melodic distance is often part of Spoon’s charm—but can a track so weightless really deliver as their “most beautiful”?
The title track lists people and things who want the lyricist’s soul, including earlier inspiration Jonathan Fisk (the title of a track from Kill the Moonlight about a classmate who bullied Daniel in middle school): “Educated folk singers want my soul / Jonathan Fisk still wants my soul / I got nothing I want to say to ’em / They got nothing left that I want.” His soul is similarly coveted by card sharks, street preachers, upsellers, palm readers, post sermon socialites, park enchanters, and skin tights. The list ranges from rock and rollers to religious entities, again an attempt to cope with spiritual malady, or the implication of spiritual maladies which the lyricist is not interested in having “fixed.”
The album also includes a cover of Ann-Margret’s 1961 waltz, “I Just Don’t Understand,” an accusatory dance-step about selfish love. Rhythmically, this song knows exactly what it’s doing: the ¾ signature a metaphor for a relationship keeping a steady pace, unchanging over time. And it fits perfectly within Spoon’s idiom—a tightly structured track beating beneath emotionally unstable lyrics. Alex Fischel’s piano harmonizes smartly with Daniel’s humming, creating a disarming gentility.
In “Let Me Be Mine,” the calm of the melody, the repetition of the rhythm, distances the listener (again) from the weight of the lyrics: “Auction off what you love / it will come back sometime / lock it up / what you love / and it says ‘let me be mine’.” The track comes to a head with the phrase “they want you to run,” repeated over and over as explanation. The song observes romantic sabotage as it is inflicted, the chorus repeating a request to own oneself.
“New York Kiss” seems to shuffle off the heavier lyrical themes of spiritual and romantic weight, ending the album with a perfect, high-powered pop song. Suddenly caught by past selves we can’t shake, we’re bogged down by the power and seduction of memory. Maybe, after all, that’s why we’re still listening to Spoon: the power and seduction of memory.
Rating: 6.5 / 10
Deirdre Coyle is a non-practicing mermaid living in New York City. Her work has appeared in theNewerYork, Fwriction : Review, Luna Luna Magazine, and elsewhere. She edits Mixtape Methodology. You can find her overseeing the internet at deirdrecoyle.tumblr.com and@DeirdreKoala.