From a personal point of view, Spoon have always been one of those bands that have failed to leave a mark.
Back in the early ’00s, when someone mentioned Austin, Texas, the initial thought was …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead. Spoon?From Austin? It just didn’t register with that aesthetic and – if anything – casted them as inadvertent charlatans, at least in the mind of a late teen who didn’t know his arse from his elbow.
Spoon were contrasting, possessing an anglophile vibe that was so far removed from the rip and tear guitar binges the likes of AYWKUBTTOD rained down on their listenership.
I guess this viewpoint made me think of Spoon as outliers. Not in the typical sense, of course, for their music has spoken to the many and not the few in the indie rock landscape. It was like a party and my invitation was lost in the mail.
On the back of the release of Spoon’s latest LP, Lucifer on the Sofa, many have said that it won’t draw in any new listeners, but that’s exactly what’s it’s done. It begs the question: is Lucifer on the Sofa a Spoon record for those who aren’t forever fond of Spoon? It very well could be, because – for my sins – their body-of-work still fails to land a glove or spark any senses.
That’s the beauty of art, though, isn’t it? Even the artists who largely leave you cold can still produce the kind sonic waves that wow and bowl you over. Suffice to say, Spoon have done that right here.
Britt Daniel has always been an interesting character to me. The numerous interviews I’ve read with Daniel over the years have been met with indifference – his constant referencing of weed has been as riveting as a night spent at your mate’s house as they regale you with holiday stories and grainy photos not fit for a postcard.
Although the herb has always been, of sorts, a muse for Daniel – the themes of wrangling with paranoia rife throughout Spoons existence, and while there are moments of this through Lucifer (Feels Alright) – for the most part we are met with a candid Britt Daniel. That green haze slowly outfought, like someone after four pints getting loosed-lipped. But unlike the pissed bloke who talks the talk to anyone willing to listen, on Lucifer on the Sofa Daniel walks the walk.
There’s no better example than the Smog cover Held, as Daniel sings, “For the first time in my life/ I let myself be held / Like a big old baby / And I surrender to your charity.”
A big time rock chorus with thunderous rhythm sections, on Held Daniel delivers Bill Callahan’s words as if they were his own.
Next up is the electric swoon and muted rockabilly of The Hardest Cut. The protagonist ripping it up and starting again, there’s no hint of Daniel’s paranoia; just someone getting their shit together and making the hard calls that sometimes summon us in life.
With a saloon bar croon, The Devil & Mister Jones has a loose pub rock vibe a la Elvis Costello, with Daniel sounding unshackled and on the rampage like never before. It bleeds into Wild and My Babe. Two of the finest moments on Lucifer, with melodies that will probably be the best put to tape all year. With a thumping guitar chug, the piano fills are a thing of beauty with Alex Fischel brushing across the keys like Roy Bittan.
“It’s ain’t tragic/ It’s like magic / I think I was born to it / Yeah I know I was born to it” sings Daniel during On the Radio. A song that provides the kind of gusto that was missing on Daniel’s collaboration album with Dan Boeckner as Divine Fits. In fact, Wolf Parade could use a bit of this, these days.
Meanwhile, Astral Jacket may just been one of the most tender song Spoon have written. A love song, no doubt, Daniel purrs, “In the blink of an eye/ You can feel so fine / You can lose all track of time/ In the blink of an eye /You can feel it/ You can move in light divine“. Emotional intensity and Spoon are two things I’d never thought I’d ever use in one sentence, but with Astral Jacket that’s exactly what this song exudes.
Then there’s the swirling grandeur of Satellite. Another love song, but this time after a 20 year storm; the kind that could only be written by someone who’s lived a bit of life beyond hashtags and selfies.
Which leads into the closing title track, which – in some ways – feels connected to The Hardest Cut. A song that speaks to the generation of fans which Spoon have kept on provoking throughout their decorated career. It’s almost as if he’s saying “I get it, I’m with you all the way here.”
With Lucifer on the Sofa, there’s not an ounce of fat to be trimmed. With Mark Rankin and Dave Fridmann anchoring these recordings, everything is exactly where it’s supposed to be. Its precision is what makes Lucifer on the Sofa such an enticing listen. Grooves and melodies that you anticipate, like being led down a dimly lit path, unconcerned about tripping up.
There’s always a risk of the fairy dust wearing off, but at the moment it doesn’t feel like that. If anything, the songs on Lucifer on the Sofa possess the ability to sink further into the mind. It’s exciting and frightening at the same time, but that’s what the great records do.
Even from the most unlikely source.
Lucifer on the Sofa is out now via Matador Records. Purchase from Bandcamp.