THE ORANGES, TREASURE STATE
Graceland, 206-381-3094, $10 adv.
9 p.m. Sat., Oct. 19
FOR LONGTIME SPOON fans, the Austin ensemble's latest won't come as an earth-shattering about-face. There have been stylistic shifts on each of the group's four long-players; the band that made the ber-catchy Girls Can Tell is a different monster from the one responsible for the punk-edged Telephono. But if Girls was your introduction to Spoon, the arty, angular tunes on the new Kill the Moonlight (Merge Records) might blindside you. Don't panic—the album will grow on you. Honest.
It's only fair, really, that Spoon should surprise listeners like that. After all, bandleader Britt Daniel hadn't expected the groundswell in popularity that accompanied last year's Girls. You can't blame him. Life in Spoon was hardly a cakewalk up to 2001. Telephono, the band's 1996 debut, was dogged by comparisons to better-known "alternative" acts (the Pixies, Sonic Youth). The departure of original bassist Andy McGuire soon after ended in legal squabbling. Spoon then signed with major label Elektra for its second album, 1998's A Series of Sneaks, only to have the A&R guy who'd recruited them depart just after it was released. The band was promptly dropped from the label.
But with 2001's Girls, the group finally found widespread favor. The warm reception caught Daniel somewhat off guard. "To all of a sudden have positive things happening was a new sensation," he admits. "That's not to say it wasn't a blast to be in this band when A Series of Sneaks came out. But there were different things to appreciate with Girls Can Tell." Things like landing on numerous year-end "best of" lists, and selling more copies of the new disc in a single year than Spoon's entire back catalog had in five.
Duly inspired, Daniel and drummer/ co-producer Jim Eno originally aimed to finish Kill the Moonlight sooner than they ultimately did. "We both thought, 'Let's not take two years to put out another record,' because people tend to forget about bands." For the first time in ages, Spoon was on a roll and wanted to keep it that way.
Daniel composed most of the new songs in a three-month spell (although the human beat-box number, "Stay Don't Go," had been kicking around since 1998). But shortly after the band began recording last October, they realized they weren't happy with the initial results. Instead of getting bogged down in the studio, they opted to go out on tour, returning to the recording completely revitalized after their road jaunt. Daniel wrote the two standout opening tracks, "Small Stakes" and the hand-clap pop of "The Way We Get By," right as the making of Moonlight was winding down.
What was Daniel's big hang-up about the disc before it all clicked? Almost everything. There were weak songs, he says, and the overall vibe was too similar and predictable. "And we wanted it to sound more special than that. A lot of it was my fault, for not having the right songs for this record yet. And we didn't approach the recording creatively enough. So we had to start over."
The end result is Spoon's most variegated full-length. "Paper Tiger" features stately yet simple synths reminiscent of Ultravox, while the chugging piano of "Someone Something" hints at vintage Chapman-Chinn glam rock, and the closing "Vittorio E." effortlessly nails the cinematic quality that all those earnest young Britpop exports grasp at. On "Something to Look Forward To," Daniel's voice floats in and out of an eerie upper register, yet on "You Gotta Feel It," his clipped, nasal delivery is every bit that of the antagonistic rabble-rousers Joe Jackson and Elvis Costello in their Angry Young Man eras.
For all its twists and turns, Moonlight clocks in at a listen-in-one-sitting length of 35 minutes. "I don't like filler," Daniel insists. "Filler makes the overall picture weaker. The Beatles' records were all about 35 minutes each. We want people to listen to the whole record. That's why two of my favorite songs are at the very end."
Spoon hope that fans and critics, both old and new, will not only listen to the whole record but will grow to cherish Kill the Moonlight as ardently as Girls Can Tell. But if this disc doesn't take the band to the elusive "next level," Daniel won't be disappointed; he ceased thinking of success as a series of clearly defined career checkpoints long ago. "If you look at it over the long haul, the only thing that matters is having made a great record," he concludes. "That's what people will remember and will make a lasting difference. I try to concentrate on that."