Spoon is one of those bands that you’ve definitely heard of before but if you had to name one of their singles or even an album chances are you’d draw a big, fat blank.
This is because even though the band has been playing since 1993, they’ve never managed to break into the mainstream music scene. Sure, some of their songs have featured in TV series such as Scrubs, Veronica Mars and The Simpsons and the movies Stranger Than Fiction and Cloverfield, but if you can name one song that featured in any of those (WITHOUT Wikipediaing ‘Spoon’) you’ll win a prize!*
The first recording of theirs I got my hands on was their 2007 album Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga and though I didn’t think much of it at first, after 5 or 6 listens I had to concede that it was a great album.
I then delved into their entire catalogue and was pleasantly surprised to find that if there’s one thing that can be said about Spoon, it’s that they write consistently good music, which is what lead to MetaCritic ranking Spoon as the ‘Top overall artist of the decade’ last year, an accolade not to be taken lightly.
After hearing the first single from Transference (‘Written in Reverse’) on the band’s MySpace site earlier this year, I was convinced Transference would be a good album, and it is. Not stupendous, not mind-blowing, but definitely worth sinking your teeth into whether you know Spoon or not.
The beauty of Spoon is that they have this ability to take simple beats and riffs and turn them into songs that are much, much more than the sum of their parts.
Their idiosyncratic brand of upbeat indie rock, which is punctuated with funky basslines and foot-tappingly infectious piano melodies is easily accessible, which is why it’s always baffled me that more people aren’t into this band.
The first track on Transference ‘Before Destruction’ opens sparsely and keeps things that way. The drums are guitar definitely take a back seat to singer Britt Daniels vocals, which turn an otherwise bland song into something with a bit more character.
‘Is Love Forever?’ comes across as messy at first, the drums and guitar sound like they’re following different time signatures, and Daniel’s vocals sound like an attempt at singing Morse Code.
An interesting choice for a second track, but then again, Spoon always put their strongest tracks in the middle of their albums, so if you’re not feeling anything yet after the meandering third track ‘The Mystery Zone’, hang in there, it gets better.
‘Written in Reverse’ pulls no punches and is a great example of what this band can do when they find a killer riff and drive it home. The piano chords play with the precision of factory machines stamping engine parts while a jangling, Rolling Stonesey guitar riff struts confidently into centre stage like a stripper after 6 tequilas.
‘I Saw The Light’ follows neatly afterward with its soft / loud dynamic that, just as it’s getting tired, swings into piano and drum instrumental that almost sounds like a completely different song and adds an interesting layer to an otherwise mediocre track.
Besides those tracks, ‘Got Nuffin’ will also stand out as another example of Spoon’s simple but-catchy-style of songwriting. Listen to the individual parts of the song and nothing much is happening, but put them together and you’ve got a song that hooks you by the second chorous.
‘Goodnight Laura’ is also notable and should have been the last song on the album, it’s a great track, one which perfectly showcases both Eric Harvey’s talents as a pianist and Daniels’ talents as a vocalist.
However, Transference is not without a few shockers – the beginning of ‘Trouble Comes Running’ sounds like it was recorded on someone’s cell phone and does little to hold your attention throughout the song, but isn’t as bad as the fourth track, ‘Who Makes Your Money’ which repeats the same flakey piano chords and bassline for a full 4 minutes.
‘Out Go The Lights’ and ‘Nobody Gets Me But You’ are both Ok songs, but that’s about it. Neither will jump out at you or make much of an impression until your 6th or 7th listen.
In terms of the lyrics, Daniels keeps them as simple and dimmed down as possible, which serves as a double-edged sword in that they don’t come across as flowery or overly-pretentious, but at the same time, I can’t honestly tell you one line throughout the album that really stood out for me.
What you’re getting with an album like Transference is a collection of songs that will definitely grow on you in time, but probably won’t change your life in any majorly significant way.
If you liked Spoon’s albums Gimme Fiction (2005) and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (2007) then you’ll definitely like Transference. Likewise, if you’re unfamiliar with this band, I would highly recommend listening to those two albums first and then giving Transference a spin.
Final Verdict: 6/10
*The prize is self-importance. Well done.