The biggest surprise of They Want My Soul, the first new Spoon record in four years, is how long it takes to get going. Since Girls Can Tell heralded the band’s post-Elektra renaissance with “Everything Hits At Once” in 2001, Spoon has been one of the great track-one, side-one bands of its age. Even Transference, the 2010 LP that suggested the band’s remarkable consistency could one day lapse into complacency, begins with the swaggering one-two punch of “Before Destruction” and “Is Love Forever?” But it isn’t until They Want My Soul’s fourth track, “Do You,” that the record truly starts to kick in. Spoon has always been a group that prizes space; its latest record rewards patience.
They Want My Soul is Spoon psychedelia, a side coaxed out of the typically minimalist act by studio maximalist Dave Fridmann. (Sessions for the record began with recording stalwart Joe Chiccarelli, but finished with Fridmann.) The producer, best known for his work with The Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev, introduces new elements of chaos into the refined sound of Spoon’s freshly expanded five-man lineup. (Alex Fischel, who previously worked with frontman Britt Daniel in the supergroup Divine Fits, joins on keyboards and guitar.) Though the band co-produced the record, They Want My Soul is the first Spoon LP since 1996’s Telephono to receive significant production input from anyone outside of the band’s immediate circle—with someone else behind the boards, the quintet is free to dig deeper into its loosest songs to date. The playing on They Want My Soul still possesses a marked degree of control, but it’s treated with additional textures made possible by Fridmann and Fischel. “Knock Knock Knock” reclaims skeletal arrangements and ghostly, wordless vocals from the pretenders who rose up during Spoon’s absence (the door the track menacingly raps upon may as well belong to Foster The People), leaving plenty of room for sound-effect interjections from the album’s mad-scientist producer.
It’s head music from guys who’ve been making body music for the better part of two decades, prone to instrumental vamping that builds the tension Transference’s longer tracks lacked. What’s lost in the process is Spoon’s way with a riff; there’s nothing on They Want My Soul to rival the tightly wound guitar licks of “Take A Walk” or the interlocking groove of “I Turn My Camera On.“ Instead, the hooks are handled by the band’s greatest asset: Daniel’s voice, the twangy rasp that hits the percussiveness of the refrain of “Knock Knock Knock” and pushes past its breaking point on the pleading “Do You.” With the vocals front and center, They Want My Soul captures the sounds of a band in the process of discovery, working through the synth-streaked groove of “Outlier,” the krautrock drive of “Rainy Taxi,” and the Electric Light Orchestra stomp that opens the title track.
And within all that, there’s plenty of self-searching. Spoon is too cool a customer to worry about its place in the indie-rock canon, but its members have been elder statesmen of a stratifying scene for years. The proudly contrarian subject in “Outlier”—“And I remember when you walked out of Garden State / ’Cuz you had taste, you had taste / You had no time to waste”—could’ve been one of the big-fish/small-pond types profiled in Kill The Moonlight’s “Small Stakes.” Soul is a quantity bought and sold by the subjects of an older Spoon track; “They Want My Soul” plays on the many connotations of “soul” as well, all the while staying in conversation with the band’s past through a callback to Kill The Moonlight’s “Jonathan Fisk.” Elsewhere on the lyric sheet, there are apocalyptic ruins, empty streets, and fates dictated by the stars, the type of visions that might result from spending too much time inside one’s own head. (“Let Me Be Mine” doubles up on an “I’m still thinking about it.” Understatement of the year, that.) In the end, however, They Want My Soul is back in touch with the physical, ruminating on a “New York Kiss” to a new-wave soundtrack. “It’s just another place,” Daniel sings, “A place your memory owns.” It just takes a 10-track comeback to get there.