Spoon's 'Ga Ga Ga,' Polished and Pure

Spoon may well bowl over fans with its latest CD.
Spoon may well bowl over fans with its latest CD. (By Autumn De Wilde)
By David Malitz
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Spoon's Britt Daniel has always exuded a sly confidence. The frontman of the veteran indie-rock band from Austin is even, dare we say, cool -- quite a rarity in a genre where awkward schlubs like the Decemberists' Colin Meloy and the Shins' James Mercer become stars. On Spoon's sixth album, "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga," Daniel's confidence turns into cockiness, but it's only natural. It's hard not to be cocky after you've just made a career-defining album that's shaping up as the best of this year's many high-profile indie-rock releases.

In typical Spoon fashion, Daniel's cockiness is subtle. The group has never adhered to the bigger-is-better principle. After a first act as one of niftiest jagged guitar bands of the '90s, Daniel and longtime collaborator/drummer Jim Eno reinvented themselves over the past four albums as a band that strips songs down to the bare minimum, keeping only the necessary elements. Hypnotic piano has become the focal point; the presence of guitar is as much for the rhythm of the strum as anything else. Spoon's poise is never manifested through bombast or boasting -- Daniel doesn't need to tell you how good he is because the results more than speak for themselves.

You can almost see him smirking on "The Underdog" as he shamelessly rips off the boomer anthem "Only the Good Die Young," knowing that Billy Joel haters will be rendered defenseless against the song's irresistible, horn-fueled pop charms. Random snippets of studio dialogue in "Don't You Evah" and "Eddie's Ragga" at first seem like annoyances but eventually reveal themselves as integral pieces of carefully crafted puzzles.

"The Ghost of You Lingers" keeps you on edge throughout but turns out to be 3 1/2 minutes of buildup with no climax. It's a curious little skeleton of a song, just piano and echo-drenched vocals, easily the least accessible on the album. Was it simply coincidence that this was the first tune to leak onto the Internet (ostensibly the lead single these days)? Wouldn't it have made more sense to go with "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb" or "My Little Japanese Cigarette Case," songs that are distinctly Spoon with their unique marriage of pulse, groove and pop?

That the famously cryptic Daniel loosens up a bit lyrically is another unexpected shift. He still sings like a Texan trying to sound like anything but a Texan, but it's easier to find meaning in his words. "The Underdog" can be interpreted as a personal anthem in which he takes aim at the major label system that left his band down and out nearly a decade ago. "You got no time for the messenger / Got no regard for the things that you don't understand / You have no fear of the underdog / That's why you will not survive," he enthusiastically howls.

The most audacious move on "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga" may be saving the cathartic mini-epic "Black Like Me" -- not just the highlight of the album but possibly of Spoon's entire career -- for the final track. After three scintillating minutes, the song abruptly stops. With 30 seconds remaining, you keep waiting for it to come back with one more flourish, a meticulously placed handclap, anything. But no dice, and it's certainly by design. On an album packed with small delights in every nook and cranny, the ending silence is the perfect invitation to the repeated listenings the song deserves.

DOWNLOAD THESE: "The Underdog," "Black Like Me," "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb"

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