Spoon have always sounded mature beyond their years. Old heads playing with new tools, these studio addicts have the effect of being slightly ageless. Their career progression’s not been all-that conventional. One moment they’ll make an all-out pop record like ‘Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga’, the next they’ll revert into their shell, staying in the spotlight for no longer than is necessary. So to call new album ‘They Want My Soul’ a “mature” record seems redundant, in some senses. But it’s the sound of a band coming to terms with their current state, their distinct past and foggy future combined like never before.
Britt Daniel and co. have been at this for over twenty years, picking up a rep of being both critically acclaimed and barely a jot on casual listeners’ radars. They’re the royalty at the head of a dinner table that nobody ever spots. This context is something they’ve come to terms with over time, and it’s one that’s still serving them well. On ‘Inside Out’, they spend the closing two minutes mucking around with synth pads that swerve in and out of focus. That’s after clean-cut verses from the frontman, before a sharp thud of a track, ‘Rainy Taxi’. If Spoon are sick of their tightrope rep of being loved but not adored, they’re not showing any signs of irritation. They remain just they right amount of self-indulgent, hitting the spot between sharp songwriting and wacko ideas.
Previous album ‘Transference’ seemed to dither in between two extremes; all-out stardom and complete introversion. This time they seem less fussed in picking between the two emotions. If ‘They Want My Soul’ was a walking and breathing human, it’d be dapper, suited and booted, destined for being centre stage.’Let Me Be Mine’ is as cool as they come, and ‘Outlier’ could easily wind up soundtracking a thrill-a-second chase scene in some grizzly Vin Diesel-starring showdown of a blockbuster. And yet despite being basically peerless when it comes to mastering a well-tailored type of rock ’n roll, their comfort zone isn’t jogged or even pinched out of its well-oiled routine.
Spoon’s sound is distinctly theirs - Britt’s vocals hoverboarding over meticulously crafted guitar parts - because it has been perfected over time. That doesn’t make it inescapable, though. ‘They Want My Soul’ is in a slight catch 22; it’s exciting to hear a band so resolutely in their zone, but on the flipside it doesn’t offer anything remotely new, and that’s the opposite of exciting. ‘Rent I Pay’ is a safe opener - it might be the sound of these New Yorkers wrestling with odd time structures and whatnot, but that’s for their own entertainment. The songs are strong - varying from ‘I Just Don’t Understand’’s jazz bar mood-changer to closer ‘New York Kiss’’ emotional farewell - but Spoon can be better than that.