With 10 songs that clock in at just under 40 minutes, Spoon’s eighth studio release, “They Want My Soul,” is a rock record to admire, and not just for the way its melodies and textures wheedle their way into the head.
One of the most acclaimed rock bands of the last decade, Spoon is returning from the longest hiatus of its career, a time that saw leader Britt Daniel teaming with Canadian avant-pop singer Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade to explore dance-punk joy with Divine Fits. Like an architect who understands form and engineering so well that he seems able to bend the laws of physics while using them to the fullest, Daniel designs songs that waste little space and have a grand, undeniable logic, filled with volumes of mesmerizing curves and accents.
Much of the album’s success comes from a tension between experimentation and allegiance to form, dueling reflexes highlighted through its two producers. Early on, the band, which has always produced its own albums, went in the studio with the Grammy-winning Joe Chiccarelli, whose list of collaborators include the White Stripes, Tori Amos, Elton John and U2. But halfway through, Daniel and company split to record with Dave Fridmann, known for his work with Mercury Rev, the Flaming Lips, Sparklehorse and others.
The latter ended up mixing the entire album, and you can hear the Fridmann flag flying all over “They Want My Soul.” It’s in the frantic high-hat, the odd bursts of strings, the ghostly wails and the electrifying guitar lines on “Knock Knock Knock.” “Inside Out” floats in like a dream and hints at Sparklehorse’s “Rainmaker” before going all in on a midtempo, blue-eyed soul song. It features what sounds like a harp solo.
There’s nothing cheap or flimsy about “Soul.” Each song seems constructed from the finest notes, honed to their perfect shapes. Each round of measures in “Rainy Taxi” shines, rotating loops of echoed guitars, an R&B-suggestive bass line, a bouncy-ball glockenspiel and an infectious backbeat. Even the silence packs a punch, the proof being brief moments of stop-start quiet in “Let Me Be Mine.”
Through it all is Daniel, protesting and proclaiming. He’s baffled on “I Just Don’t Understand,” a song made famous by Ann-Margret 50-plus years ago. He’s a man obsessed on “Rainy Taxi,” and so desperate that he’ll forsake his very voice: “If you leave, I’ll never sing another tune,” he sings. For music’s sake, here’s hoping his lover stays.
“They Want My Soul”
3.5 stars (out of four)