For Fans of: Guster, The Shins, Liam Finn
I’m pretty surre I’ve heard the argument made that every album, first through eleventy-billionth, is a band’s most important effort. Essentially, if you put out a horrible album, it can kill your career. When you get to sixth, the pool for comparison thins, and (under certain circumstances) it becomes a success in and of itself. This is where we are with Spoon and their newest, Transference.
Now, as I thought of other bands with six or more albums, my mind was of course drawn to Radiohead and analogies ran wild (hence the title). In a very rough way, Spoon is in the same place Radiohead was in with the release of Hail to the Thief (bear with me). The major difference being, Spoon’s last two albums have been their most accessible, while Radiohead’s 4th and 5th efforts were almost intentionally alienating. Spoon has picked up a lot of steam since “Gimme Fiction,” including multiple songs being featured on NBC’s “Chuck.” Accordingly, the boys were faced with a crossroad. A larger audience means more expectations. A good band shakes them with style. Radiohead (again same place, different circumstances) let loose and made the least accessible of their records with Hail to the Thief. Spoon, on the other hand, has taken a much more gradual step. (And no, I don’t think Spoon is better than Radiohead. Pshhh.)
On first listen, I was a little disappointed. I kept waiting for the radio-esque single and killer hook along the lines of “Don’t You Evah” or “I Summon You,” but it never really came. I was guilty of wanting another Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, but I got something different, a little more cohesive and a little darker. And while I think there is a stronger glue holding Transference together than previous albums, the same cohesion has made it less memorable. By no means is Transference a flop. It has its own staying power, but it isn’t a catchy staying power.
Spoon’s bread and butter lies in not trying too hard, and they haven’t fled camp. The Spoon of old is recognizable, just with a few new tricks. They’ve been evolving over time, think “The Ghost of You Lingers,” and in due course Transference contains just a few more “Ghost”-like tracks. There is some synth-percussion on “Who Makes Your Money,” strange vocal delays on “Is Love Forever?,” and mid-song “I Saw the Light” completely changes directions, but for the most part it works.
Considering where Spoon is in their career, Transference makes sense. If they don’t start broadening out, all of their quirks will become predictably unpredictable. The same thing that has made Spoon so likable (simple, low-fi pop), is also their handcuff. There is only so much you can do with a buzzy guitar, drum, and an old upright piano. I see Transference as being a sort of stepping stone. A stepping stone with substance. Not my favorite album of the young year, but one I’m glad to have in my library.
You can also check out a listen of the new album at NPR.