Britt Daniel and Jim Eno of Spoon have been courting a trademark sound since releasing Telephono on Matador in 1996. From that record’s lo-fi Wire-worship on through the intricate quirks of 2002’s Kill the Moonlight, Spoon’s very identity stemmed from their lack of one; the sonic chasms that separate their records also gave Spoon’s inventive tunes a mercurial vitality that made them indispensable. Trying to maintain that upward arc may have taken its toll on the band, however: The release of their fifth album, Gimme Fiction, was delayed nearly a full year. Where Spoon would go next soon became one of the biggest mysteries of 2005.
If Spoon’s back catalog epitomized the hormonally charged pursuit of romance, then Gimme Fiction is the sound of holing up with your significant other on a Friday night. Casual acquaintances will likely accuse Gimme Fiction of being a pansy — it swaps danger and intrigue for the safety of the familiar. (Though the arrangements aren’t nearly as sparse as those on Kill the Moonlight, the strong piano presence and ample dose of peripheral sounds definitely plants it in similar territory.) But in that security, Daniel and Eno find contentment, giving them the confidence to let their guard down and write a few songs that eschew posturing in favor of some good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll. And there’s a beauty to hitting that milestone as well.
Part of that self-assurance means they’re able to reveal some of their deepest influences, moving past the hip, angular guitar-toting crowd to some more playful pop sources. When Daniel belts out the chorus on “The Beast and Dragon, Adored,” his delivery sounds free of inhibition — and also a lot like John Lennon on “Glass Onion.” The snappy stutter of drums on “They Never Got You” are never graced with piano, but there’s a white-boy R&B feel that screams Billy Joel — who by the way, could have penned half the songs on this record. There’s even a stab at Mick Jagger’s falsetto on “I Turn My Camera On.”
They turn their penchant for left-field experimentation down, however. Gurgling static shades the end of “Camera,” but songs like “I Summon You” are left alone to rock in their pristine pop glory. The handclaps that kept time on Kill the Moonlight are put in heavy rotation again, as are a few familiar backward-playing noises. But outside of some altered voices at the beginning of the LCD Soundsystem-esque “Was It You?” the album largely stays in the conventional realm.
Without sonic leaps in production this time around, it’s easy (or lazy) to say Spoon settled here. But from a songwriting perspective, they’ve taken this opportunity to try a new angle, and even when it doesn’t quite gel, they’ve got enough talent to get by. Today, there will be hemming and hawing, but tomorrow, when you’re straining your throat to sing “When you don’t feel it, it shows/ they tear out your soul/ and when you believe, they call it rock and roll” along with them, you’ll know they were right all along.