Spoon – They Want My Soul

Two very positive reviews of They Want My Soul refer to it as Spoon’s “most booming” and “most generous” album. These adjectives could easily be replaced with “shrill” and “pandering,” but that’s why music criticism is a judgment game – after a sustained run of excellence Spoon has earned some semantic leeway.

Advance warning: this is a contrarian, indier-than-thou take. They Want My Soul is a solid album, one I’ve really enjoyed getting to know over the past month. But the glowing consensus on Spoon’s latest spackles over some cracks in this dream home’s foundation.

After 2007’s commercial breakthrough (and arguable artistic high point) Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, frontman Britt Daniel seemingly rejected the spotlight, pulling back with the lo-fi and willfully obtuse Transference before placing the band on hiatus. After that break, They Want My Soul doubles down on ambition. Its closest cousin in the Spoon canon is Ga Ga Ga – both albums revel in sonic experimentation and ride a rock-solid foundation built on a handful of killer tracks.

Daniel’s raspy snarl remains one of rock’s most recognizable weapons. That voice and his taut, edgy songwriting style make virtually every one of their tracks unmistakably Spoon. The main issue here is the band’s selection of “name” producer Dave Fridmann to gussy up its sound. Daniel’s and longtime drummer/engineer Jim Eno’s past collaborations with less showy producers allowed their frequent twists to come across as organic and original. Here the effects can be obtrusive and sound imitative of Fridmann client Tame Impala, of all things.

Daniel continues to hone his skewed take on blue-eyed soul (a la “Cherry Bomb” and “Finer Feelings”). Here, however, the sultry vibe of “Inside Out” is nearly undermined by a wave of distracting processed harp flourishes. “Knock Knock Knock” and “Outlier” similarly overstay their welcomes, and lack the same strong underpinning.

None of these flaws can offset the fact that Daniel’s penned two of the best tunes in Spoon’s history, however. “Do You” is this outing’s “The Underdog,” with its irresistible radio hook and insistent chorus.  Better yet is the title track, the lyrics of which add an ironic spin to a genre-based interpretation.  “I’ve got nothin’ I wanna sell/ They’ve got nothing I want/ All they want’s my soul, yes I know,” Daniel defiantly proclaims, working in a savvy reference to catalog keeper “Jonathon Fisk” for good measure. It’s an odd claim for a band that suffered a notorious major label trainwreck, only to succeed beyond their wildest expectation from the safe haven of idyllic indie Merge Records. Yet here they are on a new label grabbing for an even shinier brass ring.

They Want My Soul ends on a promising note. “Let Me Be Mine” is the album’s least adorned track, and succeeds because of it. And the skittering beat of closer “New York Kiss” serves as a reminder of how well Spoon can push the sonic envelope without Fridmann’s heavy hand. Here’s guessing that Daniel, Eno and Co’s next outing is another back-to-basics move. Either that, or a completion of the shark jump.

They Want My Soul
[Loma Vista]