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out January 19th
Spoon is a band that, for all its success, suffers from a condemning compliment. They are nothing if not inoffensive. I’m not completely sure why this is – maybe it’s Britt Daniel’s agreeable voice, maybe it’s the fairly standard instrumentation and orchestration found on their albums – but the feeling is inescapable. It’s tough to find someone who passionately dislikes Spoon. Instead, opinions range from “I love them” to “I don’t not like them.”
Sometimes, Spoon plays with this accessibility perfectly, striking a balance between catchy and complex. Describing my favorite Spoon tune, “The Way We Get By” from Kill The Moonlight, on PMA’s top songs of the decade countdown, I said “Nothing tangible makes ‘The Way We Get By’ stand out from other piano-based rock and roll, and perhaps that’s the quality that makes the song special – it’s a tribute to the mundane, a snapshot of the little moments made to feel as if the song itself is mixed up, somehow, in these day-to-day lives of ours.” On that tune, as in all their finest moments, Spoon is catchy and honest. On Transference, the band’s seventh full length, those moments are too few and too far between. The album isn’t bad – it’s just a bit bland.
The inoffensive tag has been applied to Spoon before, like the uninteresting friend that everyone describes simply as “nice.” And at times on Transference, it seems like Spoon has taken that passive aggressive criticism to heart, trying to spice things up a bit. Lead single, “Written In Reverse,” sees the band adopting the rocker jaunt of Cold War Kids to great ends – the song is energetic and punchy, Daniel has some bite to his voice, and the song recalls Spoon at its best. In other places, though, experiments by the group fall flat, seeming forced and fake. The ending of “Is Love Forever?” perhaps best exemplifies this trainwreck, reverbing Daniel’s vocals into a muddy cacophony. It’s a sloppy ending to a sloppy song, and far below what the band is capable of.
Elsewhere, the band doesn’t do enough to cultivate their sound. Right on the heels of “Is Love Forever?” comes “Mystery Zone,” a five minute track that seems to go one for ages. The tune is repetitive – both within itself and within Spoon’s catalogue – and drills a pleasant melody directly into the ground. Transference is marked by these near misses, these missteps on an otherwise unobstructed path. It’s an album that is pretty close to being really good. Instead, it’s lackluster. Like those aforementioned listeners, I don’t not like Transference. But I sure don’t love it either.
Lackluster is such a damning word. I almost regret using it – in reality, Transference is more or less pleasant to listen to. It’s not uninspired - the album has some cool riffs, some good lyrics, and good instrumentation. But this isn’t Spoon’s best work. It’s nothing particularly special, nothing that I would listen to on repeat or write home about. I know I’m going to catch some flak from the myriad of Spoon fans out there that swear by everything the band produces, but I struggle to find anything to keep me listening to this album outside of grungy opener “Before Destruction,” single “Written In Reverse,” and previously released EP track “Got Nuffin’.” There are a few other scattered moments of brilliance across the rest of the album, but I’m just not sure they justify slogging through tracks like “Mystery Zone.”
True story, I listened to the album’s final track, “Nobody Gets Me But You,” three times in a row – intent on dissecting the song’s cool instrumental outro that hints at the band’s explorative potential. Why three times in a row, you ask? The first two times I played it, I forgot I was supposed to be focusing, zoned out, and relegated it to background noise. From a band like Spoon, I’m looking for more than that.
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