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Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

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Artist: Spoon

Album: Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

Label: Merge

Review date: Aug. 15, 2007

Spoon's popularity has always amused me a little, since their music almost - almost - seems like a running gag about rock tropes. Britt Daniel's lyrics have never made sense, and his frequent exclamations of "Yeah!" and "Come on!" almost sound like parodies of the way most rock singers use those words. Behind him, the music is catchy, but it often feels like a collection of semi-functional parts - dropped beats, weirdly-placed handclaps, and clichés tilted to the wrong angle. One of my favorite Spoon moments is during "Car Radio" from the band's 1998 album A Series of Sneaks, when Daniel sings something that sounds like "Car Radio! Kwatsch!" It sounds like he might have meant to say "Hey!" or "Alright!" but something got stuck in his throat.

So, to me, Spoon is a little like U.S. Maple-ultra-lite, which is a description that cuts both ways. On one hand, Spoon has always possessed a detachment that makes them sound fashionable.

On the other hand, I look and look for a heart in Spoon's music, and I just can't find it. And unlike U.S. Maple, who embraced their meaninglessness/"meaninglessness" and made records that were thoroughly perplexing and mean-eyed, Spoon's brand of meaninglessness is extremely mild. This is music that can't decide whether it loves or hates the rock moves of old, but never lets that love/hate relationship lead to hot sex, or an argument.

Spoon's first two albums have been blasted for being too derivative of the Pixies, but the Pixies themselves had a deconstructivist-lite aesthetic (Black Francis once said that they wrote square songs and then chopped the corners off them) that worked because their herky-jerky energy delivered a kind of jolt that their quirky song shapes alone couldn't. On those early Spoon records, that sort of high-energy approach meshed nicely with Daniel's mangled rock moves. Since then, though, Daniel has sounded like he's sleepwalking - "The Fitted Shirt" was great, and Kill the Moonlight had a number of inspired production touches, but most of the rest of what's happened since 1998 has sounded unconvinced of itself.

The good news is that Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is Spoon's best record in a while - if you liked Gimme Fiction, you'll probably like this too. The bad news is that they're cut from the same cloth. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga features moderately-paced songs that often offer little more than slight variations on classic-rock clichés.

For example, the goofy swagger and pointless horns of "The Underdog" sound for all the world like Fleetwood Mac, except that the lyrics don't make much sense. Really, do lines like "I hear the call of a lifetime ring / Felt the need to get up for it / And cut out the middleman" make dad-rock that much better?

"The Underdog" is only the most glaring example of the album's musical conservatism, but much of the rest of the record sounds like Spoon made the standard issue rock songs first and only remembered to add the weird parts later. "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb" is the one with the echoing tambourine part and the noise tacked onto the end; "My Little Japanese Cigarette Case" is (naturally) the one with the koto; "Don't You Evah" is the one with the clipped handclaps; "Rhthm and Soul" is the one with the missing "y"; and so on. And all of them have lyrics like "Dollars and cents and no accident / Not in the name of democracy / Come get there, come be there / Come let your socks fall down to your shoes."

It may seem unfair to criticize Spoon for being too conservative and for failing to write lyrics that make sense, but the problem is that the nonsense lyrics aren't colorful enough to be convincing as nonsense. How am I supposed to take something like "Someone that I knew but I hardly met / Told me it's hopeless, I'm a slut for the New York time"? It's worth a chuckle, maybe, but that's it - and this is one of the better lyrics. It's surrounded by uninspired stuff like "And let the place ignite / It's in my face and I'm / Behind the bassline," so there's no way for the listener to figure out what it might mean. And as a lyric that doesn't directly mean anything, the most charitable explanation I can come up with is that it's a joke about rock-star promiscuity and braggadocio, and not a good one.

Still, I think this stream-of-consciousness stuff is a big source of Spoon's appeal for some people, because it's incongruous to hear lyrics like those delivered in Daniel's fantastic gravelly baritone rather than a Malkmus-y whimper. Further comparisons to Pavement are less flattering, though. Both bands combine(d) classic rock gestures with noisy weirdness, but Pavement was better at both, and Pavement's stranger stuff rarely felt like an afterthought the way Spoon's often does. Pavement was also a lot subtler and, for all their lo-fidelity, put a lot of effort into the way their music was recorded.

Too often, Spoon sound like they really just want to be a classic rock band but are uncomfortable admitting it. That's a far cry from U.S. Maple, the Pixies or Pavement, all of whom liked rock and were certain they wanted to tweak it.

By Charlie Wilmoth

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