Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (5/5)
While Spoon’s sound has never made large evolutionary leaps, they have consistently tweaked their sound enough from album to album to keep their audience interested. If you listen to neighboring albums you might not notice much of a difference but put Telephono up against Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga and you’ll quickly realize that in over ten years they’ve danced across the indie rock spectrum from The Pixies to The Beach Boys. It’s kind of like the sonic equivalent of six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, their latest and arguably best album, continues this trend and is a fine example of craftsmanship and attention to detail without sacrificing what really matters: the songs.
Oftentimes when I hear an album filled with multiple tracks and noise tucked behind the instruments it causes me to roll my eyes and sarcastically exclaim that, whatever band I happen to be listening to, has “just discovered they were recording in a studio.” Here the songs are upfront but Britt Daniel and company have also become interested in painting in the corners. What is amazing is that all of their choices seem like natural extensions of the songwriting. On another album the “studio talk” that appears at the beginning of “Don’t You Evah” would be placed before the music begins, but here it’s mixed within the drums and bass and seems like a perfect beginning before Daniel breaks into the first verse. Throughout the albums little additions like this enhance the songs in places (especially during the bridges) where most bands would clumsily throw in the kitchen sink just because they could.
The biggest break from past albums is probably “The Ghost of You Lingers.” Here simple piano chords ride out the song while stereophonic Britt Daniels coos from all directions accompanied by a series from-a-can noises. “The Ghost of You Lingers” is the closest that Spoon has gotten to avant garde sound and yet feels perfectly natural and it’s a reminder that the band has been experimenting from album to album. Although it’s a track that mp3 lovers might call filler, in the context of the whole album it evokes tension that’s begging to be released.
And that tension is released with “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb,” a wonderful pop song we’ve come to expect from Spoon. This series of tension-release occurs several times throughout the album. The middle songs never quite break into the full voiced choruses they easily could, and it isn’t until track seven that “Underdog” delivers us a release with an uninhibited horn section. The platitude “You’ve got no fear of the underdog/ That’s why you will not survive” may not have meaning at face value but when you’re screaming it at the top of your lungs driving ninety down the highway you’ll believe, oh, you’ll believe. “Japanese Cigarette Case” is another fine example of tension/release within the same song, a vein popping chorus manages to break out the tense verses.
Too often Spoon has been called minimalists, and while not wholly inaccurate, it’s also not a terribly consistent description. While the band may at times see what simple bass and drums can do, they’re not afraid of a full sound, and a full sound is exactly what they revel in on Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. Spoon have proven time and again that minimalism is merely a starting point but what the ending point is I, thankfully, cannot tell.