Spoon Stay Classy

Spoon Stay Classy
Over the past decade, perhaps no other North American rock act has been as surprisingly consistent and consistently surprising as Austin indie icons Spoon. Since the release of their gritty and energetic debut, Telephono, in 1996, Spoon — comprised of guitarist/singer/songwriter Britt Daniel, drummer Jim Eno and a varying cast of supporting players — have cultivated an undeniable aesthetic, building up an enviable catalogue of vampy rock struts and simple, elegant melodies that seem at once universal and unmistakably their own. For music fans who have grown tired of the endless trend-chasing and ironic flamboyancy that plagues rock’s mainstream, Daniel and company have consistently presented a refreshingly mature alternative: smart, concise songs that ooze confidence, control and class. Call it rock’n’roll for grown-ups.

"I think what differentiates us most from other rock bands is that we’re classy,” Daniel explains over the phone from his new home in Portland, Oregon where he settled last year after leaving Texas. "We pick the right things. And I don’t think that means we like to smooth over the rough edges or make things sound clinical or sterile. Because I think the Damned are classy, Guided By Voices are classy. I just want to blow people away, make them feel like this is an emotional experience, this is something I’ve never heard before or this is so classy it’s undeniable.”

With their latest effort, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, the group’s sixth full-length release and fourth with Merge Records, Daniel seems to have achieved just that. Already being lauded as the group’s most accomplished and sonically ambitious album to date, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga — so named after the piano cadence on the disc’s second track, "The Ghost of You Lingers” — offers a collection of uncomplicated, effortlessly catchy guitar-driven pop songs that only further cement Spoon’s reputation as one of the most versatile and intelligent indie acts working today.

Of course, the road to earning such a lofty reputation was not easy. Riding the promise shown on the rough-shod Telephono, Spoon signed a major record deal with Elektra and in 1998 released A Series of Sneaks, a ragged and intriguing collection of rock stomps that signalled Spoon’s first tentative steps away from their ’70s punk influences and towards their now-signature sound. Shortly after the album’s release, however, the group was dealt a surprising blow when Elektra A&R man Ron Laffitte dropped their contract, a slight that prompted Daniel to pen the scathing two-song EP The Agony of Laffitte in 2000.

Things gradually got back on track as the band signed with Merge Records, releasing the stellar Girls Can Tell in 2001. Boasting a more metered and refined sound than previous efforts, that album’s minimal, brooding sensibility was the first indication of the band’s emerging versatility and laid the groundwork for 2002’s bolder, more aggressively experimental Kill The Moonlight, which turned countless casual listeners into devoted fans with the slinky piano rock of "The Way We Get By” and the quirky, Prince-inspired beatboxing of "Stay Don’t Go.” This swell of public and critical acclaim was strong enough that when Spoon released their fifth effort in 2005, the subdued Gimme Fiction, the album reached No. 44 on the Billboard charts and produced a minor pop hit with the cocky rock-strut "I Turn My Camera On.”

Gimme Fiction’s critical and commercial success would prove a tough act to follow for any indie band, but if Daniel felt daunted at all during the writing process for Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, he isn’t letting on.

"We just wanted to make a good rock record, really,” Daniel explains. "I moved to Portland recently and it was inspiring to be in a new place, in terms of writing. I was pretty amped up and excited about being out there. The recording part back in Austin was a little hard, because I was sleeping in the studio, so it was like I never left the studio. It kind of made me crazy after a while.”

The result is an album that carries on along the darker, somewhat ominous path of its predecessor, but also offers some of the group’s most playful and adventurous work since Kill The Moonlight. Leading off with "Don’t Make Me a Target,” a sneering GOP kiss-off that builds on Spoon’s familiar guitar-and-piano vamp, Ga suddenly veers sharply into uncharted territory with "The Ghost of You Lingers” — an spare, atypical ballad consisting of little more than a bedrock of piano ostinatos and Daniel’s swooshing, cavernously echoed vocals that is by far the album’s most striking and provocative track.

"I think that’s my favourite song,” Daniel says. "Some of the best songs are the ones where I feel like I’m just messing around and not really writing anything, and that one had a real behind-the-back genesis to it. The ones that sneak up on you are always the best.”

From there Spoon’s musical dexterity gets a workout as the disc wends its way through a varied track list that includes the bright and punchy "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb” and the laid-back stoner bounce of "Eddie’s Ragga” before settling at its creative apex, the unexpectedly Billy Joel-esque, horn-filled summer rock of "The Underdog,” recorded under the watchful eye of veteran L.A. producer and composer Jon Brion.

"It was a lot of fun,” says Daniel of working with Brion. "It was a different experience for us, because we’ve almost always recorded in our home studio and going out to L.A., doing it the way we had always read about records being made, was really new. But Jon is great at what he does and he’s such a positive person to be around. It’s pretty rare that somebody comes along like that with ideas that knock me out. And his ideas knocked me out.”

As for Spoon fans, Daniel is confident they’ll have much the same reaction to the album as a whole. "I couldn’t handle it if I felt there was one song on an album that wasn’t working for me, I want every track to stand up on its own, and I think they do here,” Daniel says. "So far I haven’t read a single bad review. But if you had asked me that question even before I read a review, I would have said people will love it. When I finished it, I felt like this is our best record.