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Spoon
Transference

filed 01.26.10

Spoon has had a strong career of subtle progression matched with critical success. By their third album, 2001's Girls Can Tell, the band had settled more or less into the "Spoon sound," a post-punk, ragga-infused taste of indie rock, infused with pop sensibilities. Their guitar hooks were matched by pounding piano bits, and their cult status began expanding. With 2005's Gimme Fiction the band hit the Billboard 200 at number 44. All the regular ingredients had met with a messy, devil-may-care guitar frenzy, that even had the likes of Stephen King singing their praises.

So when Spoon released the follow-up to Gimme Fiction, it was with a lot of eyes on them, waiting to see how they would respond to being at the apex of their career in terms of success, but also in terms of creative output. 2007's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga debuted at number 10 on the Billboard 200, and found as much critical praise as Gimme Fiction, if not more.

Fast forward to 2010, and Spoon is in the same position they were in 2007. They've got a new album out on the heels of both a commercial and critical success. It's more than difficult for a band to maintain a spot at the apex of their powers critically and commercially for more than an album or two, so any follow-up to a success is somewhat nerve-wracking. Die-hard fans feel this may be more than anyone.

Transference, Spoon's new album, doesn't live up to the previous two albums, but falls comfortably somewhere in the band's catalog. There are the trademark Spoon moments ("Mystery Zone" sounds so "Spoon" that it's almost too easy), but for the most part the album feels too relaxed and sparse. Even the lyrics seem not as furious or frenzied as on other albums, which begs the question as to whether the album was rushed or just less inspired.

The first third of Transference feels like "Mystery Zone" in general, easy, too laid-back. And there’s head-scratching moments brought on by "Goodnight Laura." As a fan of Spoon, I balk at going so far as to say "phoned-in," but sadly in the case of this album it wouldn't be a stretch. Luckily, starting with the single, "Written in Reverse" the album begins to pick up. The energy of guitars and piano bursts come back full throttle on that track as well as "Trouble Comes Running." And between those two tracks, on "I Saw The Light" they find the mellow groove you can feel them searching for on the album's first four tracks, including a great interlude (one of the strongest progressions of this album, next to the nearly free jazz breakdown of album closer "Nobody Gets Me But You").

Unfortunately the album's best song, "Got Nuffin'" feels like an old Spoon song by this time, seeing as the band released it as a stand-alone single nearly seven months before Transference's release. All told, there's enough on this album to make a Spoon fan feel like the band can keep up the energy of their apex, as long as they don't get too comfortable. Transference shows the band is in control, it's just a matter of where their energy is. And the highlights of the album are enough to hope someone delivers a case or two of Red Bull to the studio next time.

ryanRyan W. Bradley was born in Palmer, AK and was raised between Alaska and Oregon. He has pumped gas, worked on a construction crew on the North Slope, and fronted a punk band. He now manages an independent children's bookstore. He received his MFA from Pacific University and his poetry and fiction has been published or is forthcoming in The Oregonian, Gargoyle, Word Riot, Third Wednesday, Sir! Magazine, and PANK. He is also the editor of Artistically Declined Press and lives in Southern Oregon with his wife and two sons. Like the Glacier Page? Visit Ryan’s blog here.