So I’ve been thinking about writing this post for days (UPDATE: weeks) now, and fear (UPDATE: know) that the initial inspiration may have drained out of me. But I’m cracking my knuckles and giving it a shot anyway, dammit, cuz this blog needs a post! Our readers need constant, updated entertainment! (ALL of them!) Keep shovelin’ motherfucker! Must feed the gaping maw of the Internet!
So here’s what I’ve been thinking, for days now, about Spoon.
…. giving you a second to cue your favorite Spoon record ….
Spoon are one of the many indie-rock bands overlooked by Sasha Frere-Jones in his bizarrely generalized critique of indie rock a few weeks ago in the New Yorker, in that they generally understand the combust
ive power of rhythm, of restraint and abandon, of booming bass frequencies and sharp percussion, and other qualities generally ascribed to “black” music. The best Spoon songs introduce a simple, rhythmic figure, often on piano, and then punctuate it with small, striking elements – well-placed handclaps, for instance, (the chorus on “The Way We Get By”) or a melancholy two-note doodle of a melody surrounded by space (see: Everything Hits At Once, at the 1:03 mark). This oft-remarked-on use of space is what distinguishes them from pretty much everyone else in indie rock (Interpol understood it for a minute or two there as well), and it’s why their music shares some (SOME!) DNA with Timbaland, whose music is often so spacious as to feel cavernous. Every band member contributes to this sensibility, but it’s Jim Eno’s drumming — arguably the greatest drummer in indie rock — that pretty much embodies Spoon’s musical philosophy.
But that’s not even what interests me most about Spoon: that’s just what attracted me to them initially, and what most critics gravitate towards when writing about them. (Either Mike Powell of Stylus said it best, with his review of “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga” — “Spoon has made a career out of being terse” — or it was Sasha Frere-Jones, in a much more characteristic — read “excellent” — piece).
No, what makes me return again and again to Spoon is the lurking spectre of Britt Daniels’s concealed hurt, which broods beneath the music’s swagger. It’s the subsumed hurt of a 50’s-generation male, the kind Tommy Lee Jones portrays so beautifully in No Country for Old Men. (He achieves this largely by standing around being baggy. Method acting at its finest.) Emotions never coalesce into words; they just swim around until they find an outlet, whether appropriate or no. Cue “The Fitted Shirt,” a song from Girls Can Tell that expresses both Daniel’s veneration of his father’s generation and his uneasy sense that he will never measure up in their eyes: “When I was growing up, and Dad head off to work/He put coat and tie on/over fitted shirt/Nothing else would fit right, or seem so directly applied/the fitted shirt hung on me.”
De Niro as Jake LaMotta as self-flagellating Modern American Male. (Remember, this post is about SPOON.)
Fitted shirts aren’t the only by-products of malehood of that Daniels fetishizes. In “My Little Japanese Cigarette Case,” he sighs the words, over and over: “It’s just my/Japanese Cigarette Case/Bring the mirror to my face/Let all my memories be gone,” and I picture him clutching the little case tightly as if it were a talisman that could ward off weakness or self-doubt. Then there’s “The Underdog,” in which the bright, cheery horn section is undercut with Daniels wistfully singing: “Picture yourself in a living room/Your pipe and slippers laid out for you.” Your PIPE AND SLIPPERS? Now we’ve bypassed James Dean and headed straight for Ward Cleaver. Even with this uninentionally comical image (where’s the dog bringing a newspaper in its mouth?) the longing is clear, and affecting. Daniels imbues these inanimate objects –the fitted shirt, the pipe and slippers, the cigarette case — with a profound sense of moral authority, of the stoic wisdom of his father’s generation.
Then there’s the messier, more stereotypically “feminine” side of his persona, which finds its way out in moments of arrogant, wishful denial (“I turn my feelings off/made my untouchable for life” he insists in “I Turn My Camera On“) or in startling moments of open-hearted confession. The clearest example of this is in “I Summon You,” perhaps the most emotionally raw moment in Spoon’s catalogue. Over a simple acoustic-guitar shuffle, Daniels mournfully surveys a wrecked relationship, which climaxes in the devastatingly succinct line “How’d we get here? It’s too late to break it off.” If the terse, indirect nature of his other music is to be believed, Daniels and his other probably “got here” through mutual misunderstanding — “the signals have crossed” — that Daniels tries to cut through with a simple, pleading directive: “I summon you here, my love.” Then, silence, as he waits and the guitar ticks off the seconds.
There’s a lot more out there, but not sure I’m ready to tackle it all. Consider this an installment. (Ah, the privileges of blogging. Imagine doing this with a paper?) Till next time, dearies…..