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Girls Can Tell (Merge)

Wednesday, Feb 28 2001
If you want to hear an encapsulation of what went utterly, horribly wrong with Spoon, start its new album Girls Can Tell on the fourth song, "Lines in the Suit." The tune is a barbed indictment of corporate rock, told in lead singer Britt Daniels' mistrusting yet soulful adenoidal croon; it's also the sort of irresistible siren song that led Elektra Records to sign the band back in 1998.

Unfortunately, Spoon's big break quickly turned into a big bust when Elektra dropped the band four months after releasing the critically acclaimed but commercially embarrassing Series of Sneaks. (The firing was particularly galling considering Elektra's original claim that it wanted to nurture the band over time.) Daniels was devastated, as "Lines in the Suit" attests: "How come I feel so washed up now/ At such a tender age?"

Having been thrown from the horse, Spoon's core members (singer/guitarist Daniels and drummer Jim Eno) got right back on -- this time wearing spurs. On 1999's "The Agony of Laffitte" single, the duo took square aim at Ron Laffitte, the A&R rep who signed Spoon to Elektra. The single, which featured the equally pointed B-side "Laffitte Don't Fail Me Now," may have been musically mediocre, but it succeeded at cleansing the bad taste from the group's collective mouth.

Since signing with Merge Records last year, the band's future has gotten undeniably rosier. Besides enjoying more candid business dealings, Spoon has seen Daniels' songwriting improve remarkably. Where he spent much of Series of Sneaks trying to be a kissing cousin to Pavement's Steve Malkmus, Daniels draws on a more diverse set of influences for Girls Can Tell. There's the Led Zeppelin guitar bit driving "The Fitted Shirt," the Hall & Oates keyboard pulses that open "Everything Hits at Once," and the Modern Lovers-meets-Cars vibe of "Take the Fifth."

The amalgamation doesn't always work, but when it does, it's rock at its most immediate and compelling. Take the album's centerpiece, "Anything You Want." A strange mixture of strength and simplicity, the number features Daniels' congested entreaties spilling out over skeletal organ, piano, and electric guitar. It's as close to perfection as indie rock is likely to come this year, and it showcases a band teetering on the scariest, most exhilarating edge of all: the one where everything finally threatens to go utterly, horribly right.

About The Author

Chris Baty


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