Let's talk great band names for a second. Brian Jonestown Massacre. Kathleen Turner Overdrive. Those are great band names. So-so bands, but great band names.
Then there are bands like Spoon. Horrible name, great band.
Spoon's main men, guitarist/ vocalist Britt Daniel and drummer Jim Eno, might not know how to pick monikers, but when it comes to making records, these Austin, Texas songsmiths balance a full-speed charge up Bunker Hill with a gentle stroll down Penny Lane to create some of the most infectious songs out there today, mainstream or indie. Case in point: their latest, Gimme Fiction.
Like its verse-chorus-verse-averse predecessors Kill the Moonlight and Girls Can Tell, the new disc is another solid collection of masterfully produced songs, where catchy fragments and subtle sounds intertwine to create tracks that are one part whiskey-fueled barroom rock and one part gaze-at-the-glow-in-the-dark-stars-on-the-ceiling ambient music.
The highlight of Gimme Fiction is the take-me-to-Funkytown steady-groover, "I Turn My Camera On," in which Daniel adopts a Mick Jagger "Miss You" falsetto while Eno manhandles a hi-hat-heavy beat. According to Eno (and despite the evidence), the song wasn't inspired by KC and the Sunshine Band. It actually was Prince and the Revolution.
"When I first heard the demo, it didn't have any rhythm on it at all," Eno says. "I instantly heard this Prince sound, and I think I remember talking to Britt about it and he said, 'I think we should approach it as a rock song,' and I said, 'Well, let's think about it for a moment from a Prince standpoint.' So I worked on it, and I came up with a beat similar to what's on the record."
But don't get the wrong impression here, folks. Gimme Fiction isn't destined to be a dance classic. This isn't prom-time candy pop for the Lindsay Lohan set, nor is it whirling-dervish jam-rock for aficionados of granola and nitrous oxide. This is pure, take-no-prisoners, wear-your-heart-on-your-sleeve, South-by-Southwest indie rock. And it just so happens Spoon's brand of rock 'n roll is hell-bent on finding a good groove and sticking with it.
For Spoon, groove matters, but so does subtlety. Their songs are the sort of stripped-down Revolver-esque pop gems that have been all but forgotten in today's climate of ProTooled walls of sound.
"If a song doesn't need something, then it shouldn't be in there," Eno says. "That's where the sparseness comes from and the less-is-more. Being able to hear space is fairly rare today."
As a whole, Gimme Fiction is chock-full of subtle sounds that play peek-a-boo in the open spaces. Consider the album's opening track, "The Beast and Dragon, Adored." On this swaggering, piano-driven song, Daniel's captivating vocals invoke the strained chords of a cold-turkey John Lennon, the street-smart wisecracks of Joe Jackson and, oddly enough, the sunglasses-at-night pout of Corey Hart, but what makes the track are the song's epileptic fits of distortion-heavy guitar.
On the next track, "The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine," Spoon somehow manages to decorate the song with a liberal swath of strings without turning the number into a Celine-meets-Elton-via-"November Rain" monstrosity.
And then there's the album's other standout, "My Mathematical Mind," as slippery as liquid mercury, and just as deadly. While the piano-powered groove propelling the song is surprisingly heavy, it's the rattlesnaking guitar work that makes it downright dangerous. Each time the guitar appears, it's a warning that this serpent is coiled and ready to bite.
-- Chris Haire
Nextfest with Spoon
Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison
Friday, Aug. 12, 4:30 p.m. (doors open at 2:30)
Tickets: $33.50; call 520-9090 or check ticketmaster.com.