While their slacker neighbors in late-’90s Austin were busy toiling in obscurity making Gordian prog-punk or bluegrass covers of Snoop Dogg, Spoon obsessed over the Pixies, over-achieved, and got a major indie (and then a major) deal out of it. But even as they quickly got dropped from Elektra and dropped a single dissing their a&r man in response, so too did the band begin shedding those unwanted pounds—first thing to go was frontman Britt Daniel’s Black Francis fatsuit, resulting in Spoon’s svelte and wiry (hell, they even covered Wire) new look.
Reductive, restrictive, and meticulous, it became Spoon’s métier by 2001’s Girls Can Tell. And why not, when sartorial motifs like “Lines in the Suit” and “The Fitted Shirt” look sharper on a hanger than a pair of balloon-seat khakis? On each subsequent record (2002’s Kill the Moonlight and 2005’s Gimme Fiction), however, the rock press fretted over any excessive bassline or tambourine track, to the point where it read like In Touch commenting on Nicole Richie’s skeleton.
Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, the group’s sixth album, boasts an instrument roll call that might look swollen—trumpet, Chamberlin, cello, koto, flamenco guitar—but Spoon wear it well. And some things never change, from Britt’s diction (a Brit bothered by cedar allergies) to the simple-yet- suggestive drum tattoos (tramp stamps, really) of Jim Eno. Opener “Don’t Make Me a Target” breaches the limit of the band’s plodding mid-tempo velocity; at the brink, the guitar fizzes out and the band endearingly stumbles toward the finish.
Throughout, their long-standing Anglophilia dovetails with Britt’s rhythm-and-soul obsession—see Van Morrison–worthy “The Underdog” and Motown-ish “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb.” Only now, Spoon also lets in some dub bass on “Eddie’s Ragga” and a Mikey Dread sample on “Finer Feelings” (which of course makes sense, given Britt’s B.A.D. rapping). Sounding like a mash-up of a Steve Reich work tape and a Bob Pollard demo, “The Ghost of You Lingers” cements Spoon’s curious new embrace of fallibility, leaving in the vocal bleedthroughs, drop-outs, crackles, and ghostly echoes atop the stammering piano. Allowing for such fuck-ups, Ga forges a leaner and stronger alloy.
Spoon play Rockefeller Park July 11 as part of the River to River Festival, rivertorivernyc.com