In 2002, Spoon saved music. Kill The Moonlight is a masterpiece of concision, a record that removes every inessential element, paring itself down to pure songwriting perfection: every sound counts. While the level of achievement was perhaps a surprise, the general trend towards concision wasn't: Spoon may have been the only band requested by a label (Elektra, during their ill-fated 1998 stint with A Series Of Sneaks) to actually lengthen their lead single.
So. On Gimme Fiction, there are 3 songs that top 5 minutes. They're shockingly close to dance music a la LCD Soundsystem or Out Hud, and they're not terribly good: the instrumental breakdown of "Paper Tiger" has expanded in a big way, but without the taut focus. The worst offender is "Was It You," which, for 5 minutes and 2 seconds, examines the absorbing question of whether or not one of Britt Daniel's acquaintances was walking home through a park last night, or whether it was just someone similar-looking. Maybe paring down has left Daniel incapable of the dense interweaving required for dance music, but for the first time Spoon feels like there's excess involved.
But you can see why Daniel wanted to shake up the sound: when bands like Robbers On High Street and The Natural History have sofully copped the Spoon template, why bother? The first 2 songs are among Spoon's strongest: "The Beast And Dragon, Adored" runs through slow, typically metronomic drums and an incredibly messy (but rhythmic) distorted guitar solo as Daniel laments watching all his friends move away. Next comes "The Two Sides Of Monsieur Valentine," which has strings(!) and is totally awesome, even if it's basically just some actor whining about a part he wants really bad. After this is the perfectly serviceable (if inexplicable choice for lead single) "I Turn My Camera On," in which Daniel adopts a momentarily shocking but perfectly fine falsetto.
Up to this point, Spoon has created yet another album I can't live without, then proceeds to wear me down. Songs like "My Mathematical Mind" sound OK on their own, but all in sequence they steadily deplete my enthusiasm. There's an exception: "Sister Jack," which, as fellow NYU-er Paul Haney has pointed out, is primed for "The O.C." The key line (as invaluably pointed out by online music geek friend Doug Dillaman) is "We were in a drop-D metal band called Requiem." The bassist actually was, and this poignant line of failed ambitions is second only to a similar line from "Anything You Want": "since you were 19 and standing on a corner waiting on a light by Sound Exchange." I remember Sound Exchange - a largly punk-oriented used record store that always treated me snidely - and I miss it. At bottom - beneath all the brisk songs and frequently engimatic lyrics - Spoon are music for courage and confidence, sympathizing with the working drone who aspires for more and moody non-conformists everywhere, and giving them a little nostalgia to boot. And Gimme Fiction - a strange, frequently misshapen, and definitely non-unified album - is, at the very least, a noble attempt to forge on in a different direction. I just wish it was more likeable.