It s become the order of the day for any independent/cult artist or band to eventually succumb to market demands, abandon their eccentric sound and deliver a record with a reach far beyond their small loyal fan base.
Many bands treaded the dark path of commercialism, and examples – especially in recent years – are numerous: Dave Matthews Band, Snow Patrol, Damien Rice, Modest Mouse, The Decemberists, and Athlete.
The larger part of records these artists produced under the patronage of large music corporations turn out to be average, prompting betrayed fans to move to the next new local band.
Part of the appeal of indie music is the artist’s obscurity, with indie fans regarding the musicians as their own little discovery. Once they break into the mainstream, that sense of intimacy is gone.
It s no wonder the alienated outcast Kurt Cobain, the iconic lead singer of Nirvana, felt miserable that jocks, bullies and a host of diverse types of audiences reveled to his dark, private collection of confessional songs.
Spoon, the highly innovative art rock band from Texas, are among the few smart bands that succeeded in producing a record with a wider appeal while maintaining their exceptional musical traits.
The band was formed in1994 by singer/guitarist Britt Daniel and drummer Jim Eno. Spoon released their debut album Telephono in 1996. The straightforward punk record was heavily influenced by The Pixies and was greeted with a mixed reception.
1998 s Series of Snakes fared better with audiences and critics, but it s 2001 s Girls Can Tell that established the band as one of the most original alternative American rock groups. Veering equally between sunny pop and brooding psychedelic melancholia, Girls reshaped the music of The Pixies, Elvis Costello, Sonic Youth and Nirvana into an intense, coherent context.
The experimental, stripped-down Kill the Moonlight would follow in 2002, featuring what became the band’s most popular single, The Way We Get By.
After the equally sparse Gimme Fiction, Spoon returns this year with Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga; the band s most affable, polished record to date.
The album kicks off with a trio of smashes in Don t Make Me a Target, The Ghost of You Lingers, and You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb.
The first is a gritty, yet glossy attack on The man from the stars/We don t know why he go so far/And keep on marching along beating his drum. The slick ferocity of front man Daniel s head-banging rage is rock with a capital R. While the controlled throbbing guitar line marching throughout the song flirts with the livid energy of punk.
The subject of politics turns up once more with Rhythm & Soul, albeit in a strummed, reflective figure interrupted in the middle with a jaunty tambourine and 80s keyboard synthesizer.
The Ghost of You Lingers is the most inventive track of the album. Built around a thumping piano motif, the entire number feels like a grand buildup with no release reminiscent of LCD Soundsystem. Daniel s echoing expressionism about a past love that ceases to abandon his thoughts is haunting, played in a meandering way with no resolution.
You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb, on the other hand, is a bittersweet pop tune about being stuck in a doomed relationship. Along with the progressive funk of Eddie s Ragga, Daniel exposes an emotionally needy man involved with someone he doesn t hold true feelings for. But it s the fear of solitude that forces him to continue his loveless liaisons.
What s astonishing about Spoon is their gift in infusing dark themes and playful cynical imagery in an almost jovial context; creating an album that sounds like an ironic statement about the illusion of love.
What is even more admirable about the band is their precision and calculated production sensibilities. The band churns an amalgam of punk, acoustic rock, funk, touches of blues, pop and reggae into a distinct musical framework. Even The Underdog – the most uplifting cut of the album that takes a strong stab at the major labels while hailing their underdogs status – is accompanied by a bass guitar, horns, and chamberlain. It twirls around Daniel s lyrics in a sonic scheme that still manages to sound random.
The album takes a radical shift in direction with the final track Black Like Me. The ballad is a poignantly crushing, low-key epic that sees Daniel drop his guard. He openly proclaims I m in need of someone to take care of me tonight. The sadness that pounds gently at the beginning develops into a semi-frantic dance number that puts sadness in a different mould.
The lasting impression Black leaves is that of an entranced man, dancing alone in the middle of a dance floor. The world, according to Daniel, is a place with no emotional fulfillment, only piercing remoteness and the only possible solutions is to simply keep on dancing.