I’m gonna be a total pig here for a minute, but I’m gonna try to be inclusive about it. Think about the type of person to which you are attracted – whether they are of the opposite or the same sex, it doesn’t matter (I guess it matters to John McCain, whose total about-face on repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will, I hope, eventually put him in the position of having to publicly admit he hates gay people. Or is it, Senator McCain, that you’re afraid gay soldiers will serve more capably than you did? Really, all they’d have to do is…let’s see… not get captured). Now imagine someone, maybe a famous someone, of whichever gender gets your lust fired up – anyone whom you’ve seen in several different pictures. What we’re looking for here is someone who is really, really hot in some pictures but in other pictures they’re…well… kinda hideous. Can you think of someone like that?
Where the fuck am I going with this?
Musically, I think Spoon is like that. If you look at them in terms of some of their music, they’re beautiful (“The Ghost of You Lingers” makes art out of what is essentially the keyboard part from Bon Jovi’s “Runaway.”). Other times, they’re Velma from Scooby Doo, crashing the party with their attractive friend who, by the way, is way out of your league. Again, you can fill that analogy in with whatever reference turns you on (also, let’s not assume by this that I’m hung up on cartoon characters. I just find it fascinating that the creative minds behind Scooby Doo couldn’t have the smart girl also be attractive, as if they didn’t believe the two virtues could exist in one body).
A couple of weeks ago, Spoon released Transference. I’ve been listening to it frequently since I got it, but it’s not because I love it. I don’t hate it either. The jury is still out, sorting the hotness from the notness among Transference‘s eleven songs. The first three tracks don’t impress me much, but there are a few gems here: “Who Makes Your Money”, “Written in Reverse,” and “I Saw the Light” are nestled back to back and deliver maximum pleasure, but the rest of the album lurks around a standard of quality that falls somewhere between “Okay” and “Pretty all right”. “Trouble Comes Running,” when it dresses right, is pretty good looking.
I dove backwards into the two previous Spoon records, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga and Gimme Fiction for some perspective. How sexy was Spoon in these two little snapshots? Overall, they rate pretty well. I mean, “My Little Japanese Cigarette Case” would require prescription beer goggles, but “The Underdog” is quite seductive indeed. And then there’s Gimme Fiction, which, in my shallow analogy, is that photo of someone to whom you were never super-attracted but, captured in this certain light, they are nothing short of stunning. Gimme Fiction is still my favorite Spoon album because it was the first one to surprise me. I was at work at Tower Records in Harvard Square (it’s not there anymore), the album was playing and, all it once, it hit me: I like Spoon.
Given that, is Transference the ugliest stepsister of the three Spoon albums I own? No. Maybe it’s the least attractive of three moderately attractive sisters. Upon the millionth listen, there’s some real beauty to be had there. I like the rough sound (when it’s not undercut by studio masturbation, a habit for which Pitchfork heaps praise upon Spoon. I’ll not praise them for it because I know they know better. We all know better. There’s a reason “Revolution 9” is nobody’s favorite Beatles song*), the harmonies, the lurching, jerky funk of “Written in Reverse,” and Britt Daniel’s sly falsetto on “Who Makes Your Money.” But if I gotta listen to it a million times to really suss out the good stuff, Transference is not the type of girl I’m gonna take home to meet my parents. Too high-maintenance.
Maybe I can make a slight improvement to this analogy (you’d hope so, right?). Have you ever known someone that you didn’t think was that attractive and then you see them with someone else and you suddenly get exactly what it is about them that’s so great? They become beautiful right before your eyes because you see how someone else sees them. It’s a pretty cool experience to have, if you’ve never had it. I’ve heard other people talk about Spoon in ways that make me want to run home and listen to Spoon immediately, even if I have, just that morning, resolved to get rid of my Spoon albums because I never listen to them. Maybe, once I hear some other people talking about how much they love Transference, I’ll start to love it too (I actually didn’t listen to Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga much after I got it and then someone started talking about how good it was and I got all nostalgic, drunk-dialed it, and barged into its dorm room when it was making out with its new boyfriend……….. I’ve gone too far with this, haven’t I?)
So my feelings about Spoon and Transference are complicated, contradictory, both not as shallow and precisely as shallow as I’ve presented them here. Maybe Spoon’s Coachella set will be what finally wins me over. Perhaps their music and I will see each other from across the field, our eyes will meet, and…okay, I’ll stop now. In all seriousness, if you’ve liked Spoon in the past, I find it hard to believe that you won’t like Transference, but how much you like it may depend on which of their albums you want to fuck – er, listen to – the most.
*And if you say it is, you’re just being an asshole.