Indie Rockers Spoon Issue a Greatest Hits Collection
Amidst a tour opening for Beck and Cage the Elephant, Spoon will release a greatest hits collection in August that's a wonderful overview of their music.
Everything Hits at Once: The Best of Spoon
16 August 2019
Everything Hits at Once: The Best of Spoon simultaneously tells you everything you need to know about this compilation, or, if you're already a Spoon fan, raises some questions. Like, why would a band this consistently good release a greatest hits album when nearly every regular album is packed with great songs? Or, Spoon doesn't really have any hits, per se, so do they just go with singles or try to suss out the best tracks? Did they even go as far back as Telephono and A Series of Sneaks for this compilation? The answers, respectively, are as follows:
1. Spoon is on a U.S. amphitheater tour right now as the opening act for Beck and Cage the Elephant, bringing their music to thousands of people each night who have potentially never heard them before. It's a good time to have an easy to find sampler ready to go.
2. It's a mixture. Most of the singles are represented, but there are also some deep cuts here, too.
3. No. They skip those first two albums entirely.
Here's the challenge if you're the band. You're going to be drawing songs from seven albums, but you want the compilation to be about the same length as a typical Spoon record, which puts the time limit at about 45 minutes. In the tradition of greatest hits albums, you also include one "new" song (in this case an outtake from their previous album, 2017's Hot Thoughts) in the hopes that it will do well as a single and retroactively merit inclusion. That means a dozen songs, which is a tall order with a discography as strong as that of Spoon. The grand tally? One song each from Girls Can Tell, Kill the Moonlight, Transference, and Hot Thoughts, two from Gimme Fiction, and three apiece from Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga and They Want My Soul.
I'm giving myself one paragraph to complain about what they should've included and what they should've left out. That's the kind of discussion fans always have about these types of compilations, but I'm also aware it's not particularly fun to read an entire review full of whining. Despite it being the title track of the compilation, I'd swap out "Everything Hits at Once" for Girls Can Tell's snarly, Spoon meets Zeppelin rocker "The Fitted Shirt". I wouldn't have gone with three songs from They Want My Soul, especially with the superior Hot Thoughts only meriting its title track. But Hot Thoughts is the most recent album and the one new track, "No Bullets Spent", comes from those same sessions, so I get it. Oh, and if you were going to choose a third track from Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga ("You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb" and "The Underdog" are givens), would you go with the slinky funk of "Don't You Evah" over the intensity of "Don't Make Me a Target" or the emotion of "Black Like Me"? Tough choice, but I would've gone with "Black", one of my favorite songs in the whole Spoon discography.
So, tracklist quibbles aside, what's good about this album? Nearly everything. Everything Hits at Once functions as a strong overview of Spoon, from the minimalist rock they made their name on to the fuller, more elaborate material that dominates most of their past decade or so. The album opens with "I Turn My Camera On", the slow, sparse single that first put the band on my radar back in 2005. Back then I didn't appreciate the song's simple funk groove and falsetto vocals, but time has been kind to the track and my opinion. The way drummer Jim Eno and singer-guitarist-songwriter Britt Daniel hit their instruments on beats two and four gives the song a heavy pulse that's perfectly at odds with its relaxed tempo. Following this, with the poppy, airy "Do You" is an excellent song choice. Then comes "Do You Evah", which, with its shakers, handclaps, and variety of guitar tones, is a different take on Spoon doing funky than "Camera".
We return to They Want My Soul with "Inside Out", apparently one of Daniel's favorite songs based on how many times they played it on TV appearances back in 2014-15 and the way they tend to stretch it out live. With its multiple keyboard and synth parts, it's essentially unique among Spoon songs, but its overreliance on fluttery synth harp runs and a not-great drum and piano groove put it among my personal least favorites. From there the comp takes a hard turn back into minimalism with Kill the Moonlight's excellent "The Way We Get By", which uses just simple piano chords, tambourine, and vocals for half of the song before the bass and drums come in. Daniel never even bothers to pick up the guitar here, and it's not missed at all.
From there it's time for the horn-laden "The Underdog", maybe the band's catchiest song. It's a testament to Daniel's songwriting that despite an excellent acoustic guitar performance, creative percussion (tambourine, handclaps, drums, and yes, even actual spoons), and those horns, the focus remains firmly on the vocals whenever he's singing. Then it's "Hot Thoughts", with a funky drumbeat, gnarly guitar tone, synth backing, and a surprisingly effective glockenspiel line. It's not a sexy song, per se, but it does effectively capture the maddening tension of being newly infatuated with someone.
"I Summon You" is the band's second pick from Gimme Fiction, which would not have been my second choice ("Beast and Dragon", "Monsieur Valentine", or even "Sister Jack"), but it's a good song, and the simple arrangement of acoustic guitar, drums, and vocals is a nice change from the previous two songs. That leads nicely into the heavy beat and thunderous guitars (at least in Spoon terms) of "Rent I Pay", easily my favorite of the They Want My Soul songs on this collection. From here we hit "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb", with its classic Motown beat and horn arrangement and a rival to "The Underdog" for catchiest Spoon song. The rocker "Got Nuffin'", from 2010's maligned-because-it-was-only-pretty-good Transference, is both the big single from that album and the best choice for inclusion here. "Everything Hits at Once" wraps up the previously released portion of the compilation and it's…just fine. It's a song that doesn't move me one way or the other.
The new song, "No Bullets Spent" opens with Daniel's voice heavily vocoded, which is different. But after the introduction, the song swings into something more typical for Spoon. It's slightly faster than mid-tempo, with a bit of a funk lope to the beat and a simple but solid guitar riff. The most distinctive part of the song is the guitar solo that comes after the first chorus. It's got a bluesy sheen of distortion to the tone and Daniel plays in the upper register. Just the fact that it's a genuine guitar solo makes it worth mentioning as far as Spoon is concerned. It's hard to imagine "No Bullets Spent" being anyone's favorite track on this album considering some of the heavyweight songs here, but it also doesn't feel out of place. It's a good, solid song, and having the compilation's middling title track as a set up definitely helps.
Established fans of Spoon aren't going to get too much fresh out of Everything Hits at Once, but if the tracklisting looks appealing, then it's worth a listen. "No Bullets Spent" is worth a spin on its own. As for new listeners, this is a very good overview of the band. There will probably be a few songs you recognize even if you don't know the title offhand because Spoon tracks have floated around television shows and movies quite a bit over the years. One thing puzzled me about this album's release date, though. The press release specifically says this compilation is timed to the big summer tour. But 16 August is two-thirds of the way through, and if Matador and the band had pushed the release date up a month, to 12 July, Everything Hits at Once would've been available for the entire tour.