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Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga Print E-mail
Saturday, 01 September 2007
format:    16-bit CD
performance:    8
sound:    7
released:    2007
label:    Merge
reviewer:    Matt Fink

ImageThough he bristles at the suggestion that his band is something of an anachronism in the era of MySpace sensations and lap-top pop, Britt Daniel is undeniably a songwriter who belongs to a different era. Having long pushed aside those early Pixies comparisons that dogged the band for their first few guitar-centric albums, the band that Daniel now fronts features a musical vocabulary far more informed by classic rock and soul music than any of the current stylistic winds blowing across the indie rock landscape. And while they introduced a degree of art-rock into the mix with 2005’s Gimme Fiction, it remains true that the creative frontiers are being explored by bands who often emphasize experimentation over conventional songcraft, and Daniel has always been a tunesmith at heart. As such, Spoon have taken the most difficult route to prolonged artistic viability. Song after song, album after album, they’ve simply become a better band.

The ultimate no-gimmick band, Spoon have labored through 10 years of sweaty clubs and record label headaches to arrive at the point where they’re arguably as good as any band working with the conventions of guitar rock. There are no sexy headlines to attach to them, no conceptual conceits or visual motifs to drum up interest in their newest release. Still, despite a decade as indie rock’s perennial next big thing, the Austin quartet have never left their corner of the rock canon, still fitting within no genre or movement, still relying on Daniel’s soulfully expressive vocals and slashing guitar hooks to carry nearly every track. Now, with their sixth full-length release hitting #10 on the Billboard Top 200, they have picked the perfect moment to release their most mature and immediate album, with Daniel stacking it with his best hooks and most streamlined arrangements. With Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, the band that was always on the verge has finally arrived.
Like Elvis Costello or Tom Petty, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what makes Daniel a special songwriter, as an unnamable energy powers the clever riffs, evocative lyrics and spirited performances that make his songs so meticulous and timeless. Puzzlingly described as a “grower” by some in the press, this album features more hooks per minute than any other Spoon release, storming out the gate with the snarling “Don’t Make Me a Target.” Built on an infectiously descending chord progression and a swirling chorus, the track is a primer for everything that Spoon does well, with Daniel’s urgently confrontational growl leading up to a breakaway outro of piano chords and wicked shards of guitar distortion. And while many albums would struggle to maintain the energy contained in that song’s supercharged three minutes, Spoon follows it up with moments that push them further into the realm of soul-pop than they’ve ever gone.

Borrowing a page from Motown, the strutting horns, tinkling bells and steady-chugging drums of “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb” are likely to strike listeners as the most startling departure from the previous Spoon oeuvre, with the backing chorus of handclaps and pulsing saxophones creating a richly tangible backdrop for Daniel’s aching falsetto vocals. The brass section returns for “The Underdog,” a glorious swaggering slab of terse threats and acoustic guitar strums overlaid with pulsing Stax horns. Obviously, for someone with such a classically soulful voice, the pairing makes perfect sense, and both songs prove that Daniel has the right amount of taste and poise to pull it off with nary a false start.

No doubt, Daniel’s creative personality and gifts as a tunesmith have overshadowed his bandmates to a great extent, but there’s little denying their tightness as a soul-rock unit, whether locking down a bass and drum groove on “Don’t You Evah” or the nimbly understated hook of “Finer Feelings.” The group presence is accentuated even more by production that leaves studio chatter and stray notes in place, adding a feeling of spontaneity to the oscillating piano strikes and vaporous vocals of “The Ghost of You Lingers,” and a simmering tension to the moody verses and sprightly choruses of “Rhthm and Soul.” Throughout, this is the sound of a band in the studio, knowing that the essence of soul is capturing something when its energy is still raw. To that extent, Spoon has never made a more urgent release.

Add it up and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga would rank as the best release in Spoon’s catalog – if only it weren’t so short. At 10 songs in 36 minutes, there’s simply no room for error or lack of inspiration, and the few lesser moments end up making the album feel much slighter than it otherwise would. That said, for a band that has spent most of their career swirling around various definitions of their sound, Spoon finally sounds as if they’ve found a home as indie rock’s blue-eyed soul brothers. In the end, it’s not a place where they’re likely to discover any new ground, but albums as distinctive as this one guarantee that they’ll tear up the turf before they leave.

Produced by mainstay Mike McCarthy, the album maintains a warm classic rock feel that perfectly echoes its evocation of ‘70s soul and art rock. With reverb so thick that the drums occasionally sound as if they are garbage cans splashing in water, there are few modern touches found anywhere, from the traditional rock band set-up to the ruffled edges of the textures. As you would expect, Daniel’s vocals are presented high in the mix, but the throwback production ensures that they sound more forceful than clear. As such, played at a high volume, the album simply sounds massive, a beautifully lumbering wall of guitars, pianos and horns that pulse along as one hazy lump. Ultimately, no other approach would suit them.

Extra Features
An iTunes-exclusive bonus track, "Deep Clean," was added for download buyers. A limited edition copy of the album, to sweeten the early purchase of rabid fans, was released with a bonus disc titled Get Nice!, 12 tracks and 23 minutes of mostly instrumental songs and jams, a few demo tracks and two previously-released songs. Early buyers of the vinyl also received a free seven-inch containing a demo of "The Underdog," and the B-side "It Took a Rumor to Make Me Wonder, Now I'm Convinced I'm Going Under," which previously appeared on the U.K. edition of the “Sister Jack” single.

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