Austin, TX has produced a long list of great rock outfits over the last 20 years. Preeminent among them sits Spoon. Led by frontman Britt Daniel’s born-to-rock rasp and deceptively complex riffs, Spoon has been essential listening for blossoming indie nerds and rock veterans alike, forging an easy coalition between the two factions, if only for a show’s length.
But electric as the quartet can be, Spoon is on a rare cold streak. After almost a decade of consistently solid albums, peaking with the succinct thrill of 2007’s “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga,” 2010’s “Transference” was a diminishing return. There were singles to be had, but for the first time in the band’s recorded history, considerable filler as well.
With “They Want My Soul,” Spoon are back—not simply with a new album, but in a true return to form, a great album. Weighing in at 37 minutes over 10 tracks, the LP is as sleek and well-crafted as an Italian sports car (and about as cool). The crisp guitar cuts we’ve come to love are here, produced and placed as minutely in the mix as gears in a watch. But there’s also a new emphasis in the rhythm section: good old fashioned drums are often transmogrified into block-rocking beats. This percussionary twist is part of the magic of the ethereal “Inside Out,” the driving force behind the title of “Knock Knock Knock” and the edge in the eponymous “They Want My Soul.”
Lyrically, “They Want My Soul” is imbued with the glib turns-of-phrase and coy mystery of past Spoon albums. As he admitted in the band’s recent New York Times Magazine profile (and in the song itself), Daniel may have swiped the key locution from “Rent I Pay” off his brother, but the sentiment is Spoon all over: oblique, clever and distinctly film-noir. But then, who said they can’t be funny? From “Outlier”: “I remember when you walked out of Garden State / cause you had taste, you had taste / you had no time to waste.” Even when lines shouldn’t work here, they find a way. Like the “Suckin’ down a chili dog” of “Jack and Diane,” or “Chewin’ on a candy bar” of “Blood Bank,” “Do You”‘s “Someone get popsicles / someone do something ‘bout the heat” has no right to add up in an otherwise great song, but there it stands, catchy as anything the band has put together.
It isn’t quite all unimpeachable rhythms and indelible lines. “I Just Don’t Understand,” sounds penned by a troupe of local dads for a blues-rock wedding rehearsal, and is rendered weaker by its impeccable surroundings. “New York Kiss” is a nifty 80’s throwback, but with the finishing power of a hat tip, it’s perhaps not the ending an album so wondrous and badass deserves. Small gripes, though: for any who doubted their consistency after “Transference,” Spoon has come through resoundingly with “They Want My Soul,” a reminder that there is a universal cool, and so long as they keep making records, it isn’t going anywhere.
Dylan Owens is Reverb’s all-purpose news blogger and album reviewer. You can read more from him in Relix magazine and the comment sections of WORLDSTARHIPHOP.