Total Systems Failure

I listened to Sneaks mostly to imagine the singer guy's face, a face I heard as resembling the young Joe Strummer, the young Paul Westerberg. The sneer, the hopefulness, the clouded gaze lit with fiery dawn. In truth, there lives no face not beautiful when painted in colors of passion and pride. Behind the brow furrowed in suspicion, in back of the scowl and the fed-up stubbornness, he sings as if understanding all we have riding on him, wanting more than anything to honor that.

By now you're assuming I've made up this record because (1) you've never heard of it, and (2) things that're that good get heard. They don't, though. A lot of good bands don't get signed, even more good bands make bad records, still more good bands make good records that're distributed or promoted badly. Out of nowhere our tastes change and we confound the moneymen. The music market is just the dance of so many random intangibles. . . . The record companies alertly stand to the side, conducting polls and dictating memos, as baffled as anyone about why we're sick of Alanis now but not yet over Britney, why we fickle folks like what we like. It's akin to the stock exchange, really, a scene of bluffing gamblers, or a bunker full of addictive liars or con men guessing at the dreams of the customers—as Joseph did with Pharaoh—to thereby establish a wise reputation. Case in point, something went wrong, terribly wrong, with Spoon: Before their imminent classic Sneaks ever had its chance to be "worked," some god gave them the finger. They were cut from Elektra's roster only four months after Sneaks came out. (Four months! Jello pudding snacks have a longer shelf life.) Of course, it's not just Spoon; that's what I'm saying—everyone who looked or sounded "alternative" suddenly couldn't summon up enough sales to make big the eyes of the bigwigs. Spoon, for one, were not surprised, but that doesn't mean they weren't hurt.

Their response was a two-song CD—a "concept single"—addressed to Ron Laffitte (their former A&R guy at Elektra). Lacking any context, I assumed, when first I heard how these songs hovered between sobbing and spitting, that they were telling about a cruel ex, or possibly an elected official who broke our hearts. Are you ever honest with anyone? "It's like I knew two of you, man," goes the vocalist, discouraged, disgusted, "one before and after we shook hands." The songs—"The Agony of Laffitte" and "Laffitte Don't Fail Me Now"—manage to say things that no band, to my knowledge, has ever sung to a former record company. They're not exercises in bratty name-calling and bellyaching. Whether people like Elektra chairman Sylvia Rhone—who repeatedly assured Spoon she wouldn't drop them until she did exactly that—deserve our pity or not, Spoon apparently think so. These songs do not lack sympathy. The singer sings as one who is intimate with betrayal, even expects it, for he himself has gotten through life—as Spoon's only major-label title admitted—using a series of sneaks. This new release's balance of compassion and blame and fury and guilt and impatience sounds creepily like Kurt Cobain will—once he's dug up and unplugged again.

Goodnight Spoon
photo: Marcello Krasilcic
Goodnight Spoon


"The Agony of Laffitte"/"Laffitte Don't Fail Me Now"
Saddle Creek

Camden Joy's second novel, Boy Island (Quill/Morrow), appears in stores next month. Spoon's single is available from

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