As in American life, second acts in indie-rock are exceedingly rare. Call it the Pavement model: A band's early work is greeted with massive excitement. Then it releases at least one universally lauded follow-up, takes a dip in the mainstream, and makes a slow descent to a comfortable, respectable plateau, while its fans enjoy the new but quietly pine for the old. In other words, the thrill is gone. Then there's Spoon, the Austin band whose jagged career path requires diagrams and pop-cultural pulse-monitors to fully grasp, and whose time in the noonday sun by all rights should've ended albums ago. Instead, singer-guitarist-songwriter Britt Daniel and drummer Jim EnoSpoon's two constantssit just over the tipping point, with album number five, Gimme Fiction, improbably but almost certainly the most anticipated set of songs they've ever recorded.
Far less direct than the albums that inspired that anticipation2001's Girls Can Tell and 2002's Kill The MoonlightGimme Fiction succeeds precisely because it refuses to follow a straight line. It torpedoes the often-justifiable notion that Spoon's music feels like it was made with safety in mind, and that its far-and-wide excursions are just thattemporary steps away from a safe, solid path. Gimme Fiction begins with a vexing but intensely satisfying one-two-three punch that teases and embraces classic rock: "The Beast And Dragon, Adored" shoots Plastic Ono Band growl through T. Rex swagger (and dragons); "The Two Sides Of Monsieur Valentine" could have been written and convincingly performed by Tom Petty; and the line-riding "I Turn My Camera On," with its sticky falsetto and bumping backing chorus (sung by Crooked Fingers' Eric Bachmann), sounds like an ace outtake from Tattoo You-era Rolling Stones.
Spoon doesn't get around to breezy, three-chord rockers until halfway through Gimme Fiction, and those songs are better served in these smaller quantities: "Sister Jack" recalls Wilco's Summerteeth, but it would've been lost in an album of sound-alikes. "I Summon You" strums along similarly, benefiting from juxtaposition with quirkier fare, like the slinky "The Infinite Pet." Nothing sounds like a hit, but that's exactly Gimme Fiction's strength: It trades on the goodwill generated by Spoon's past pop moves to ask for wiggle room, snaking the same kind of circuitous path to sonic success that led the band to the late-game spotlight when it might have easily withered and disappeared.