Almost imperceptibly, Austin’s Spoon transformed from noble failures to darlings of the business. The popularity of last year’s Gimme Fiction and its falsetto sex march “I Turn My Camera On” cemented the reputation slowly building over the last decade, paving the way for Merge’s acquisition and reissues of the band’s modest 1996 debut, Telefono, and subsequent EP, Soft Effects, which truly established Spoon’s potential.
Telefono is a decent record, and in many ways a fun record, too. Some of the foundation is established here: the drunken canter of a rhythm section (thanks to Jim Eno), the loose gravel of Britt Daniels’s voice. But much of Telefono documents a band that could easily have gone in another, safer direction.
The members of Spoon have learned some lessons in the years since Telefono, and they’ve taken them to heart. There’s a slightly embarrassing tendency to throw out profanity as shorthand for edginess that Daniels has mercifully scrapped. Also, while there’s nothing inherently wrong with the two-minute punk whirlwinds of which more than half of Telefono comprises, the band members have since proven they are capable of writing compelling rock songs that can sustain an impact beyond two verses, two choruses. On most tracks, especially “Cvantaex” and “Nefarious,” Spoon sounds like a world-class Pixies cover band. A great band to emulate, sure, but thank the heavens that the aspirations grew from there.
Rather confoundingly, the maturation process of Spoon appears to have occurred almost instantaneously. The band’s EP of the following year, Soft Effects, is a corker, jagged and dynamic in that ironically signature manner of theirs. All five tracks feel fleshed-out, and “Waiting for the Kid to Come Out” has the quirky, sing-along quality of a great lost single.
Soft Effects, much more so than Telefono, provides evidence that Spoon was on the verge of big things. That the band’s route was more prolonged and circuitous than the members probably would have liked doesn’t change that fact.