Ten years later, an adored band's mid-career triumph is again celebrated.
It’s been a pretty fantastic run for Spoon. As one of rock music’s most deeply prolific and consistently thrilling bands, the Austin-based outfit helmed by frontman Britt Daniel, has enjoyed widespread critical acclaim and smatterings of commercial success, all while staying true to their fiercely independent ethos. Void of any phoniness or empty posturing, the band has been able to make music on their own terms, filtering their trademark skeletal and jittery rhythms through a wide range of classic rock, pop, and avant-garde sensibilities.
As the fanfare surrounding the release of their eighth album, 2014’s hard-charging They Want My Soul, has begun to slow down, Spoon used the tail end of 2015 to release a tenth anniversary deluxe edition of Gimme Fiction, an ambitious and eclectic masterpiece that debuted highly on the Billboard charts before catapulting the band into larger venues and the most high profile gigs of their then still ascending career.
Released by Merge Records, the indie label that Spoon called home for much of their career, this repackaged version of Gimme Fiction comes with two discs: the first being remastered versions of the album’s original eleven tracks and the second containing a dozen demo renderings and a few unreleased recordings. For those of us who have fondly kept the album close at hand over the past decade, there's still much to get excited over.
The audio collage that haphazardly ushers in opening track, “The Beast and Dragon Adorned” shines through with a mysterious and hopeful greeting, promising listeners a wild ride that would veer sharply away from the stark minimalism that had stood at the center of the band’s prior releases. From there, each song brings its’ own unique personalities to the mix: ranging from the tightly bound “The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine”, to the slinky disco-inflected homage “I Turn My Camera On”, to the celebratory and earnest power pop sensibilities of “Sister Jack” to the menacing yet declarative back-to-back album closing punches of “They Never Got You” and “Merchants of Soul”. Pulling inspiration from a variety of disparate sources -- an ancient tapestry found in his grandmother’s attic, the backwards thinking of US political leaders circa 2003-2004, and the small-town trappings of life in his native Temple, Texas -- Daniel weaves his lyrics into a loosely bound narrative centered on the vague feelings of dread and uncertainty that dominated the culture at the time.
When Spoon gathered in Austin to begin the recording process, doubt and fear had yet to make way for hope in the American zeitgeist. The band members at the time-Daniel, Jim Eno, Eric Harvey, and Josh Zarbo, with an assist from producers John Vanderslice and Mike McCarthy-expertly illustrated these feelings. There’s a sense of urgent disorder mixed with hesitant confusion that anchors each track here. These are feelings that seem to declare the sense of playing for one’s life or more aptly, the attempt to capture on tape all of the disparate thoughts and ideas that may have been passing through each member’s head at the moment.
At times, the vibe is cool, confident, and matter-of-fact calm. At other times (particularly on the ruminative “I Summon You” and the probing “Was It You?”) the cool façade disappears, replaced instead by desperate pleas for help, calm, and order. Above all, the album can be cathartic as expertly witnessed by the roaring and cacophonous outro of “My Mathematical Mind”, a punishing song that continues to serve as a high point of Spoon’s live show now ten years later.
The reissue package also contains a fascinating oral history of Gimme Fiction called Gimme Truth. It provides a wealth of insider knowledge and interesting gems that not only prove entertaining, but force you to listen closely for little wrinkles that present themselves upon repeated listens. Daniel points out the short and muted recording of Eleanor Friedberger singing through the opening bars of “Beast and Dragon”, McCarthy and Eno explain to great lengths the steps taken to achieve various drum sounds and percussion taps, and Harvey and Zarbo prove particularly candid with their recollections of touring shenanigans and other random anecdotes that accompanied the frenzied reception that greeted the band upon the album’s release. There’s also an illuminating discussion with Sean McCabe, the New York-based artist who worked with Daniel to create the striking album cover and artwork, a design aesthetic that proved to be refreshingly in sync with the music and vibes contained within.
As Spoon continue to soldier on, exploring new sounds and continuously serving as one of indie rock’s most trusted voices, Gimme Fiction serves as a mid-career masterpiece. It's a release that signaled bold changes in the band’s sound and announced a staying power that has gone on to perhaps surpass any initial expectations that may have been in place. As Daniel declares at the album’s end, he was “a heartbeat on the danger side” trying to see what new sounds and ideas could materialize. As this collection attests, he and the band certainly discovered what they were capable of and have continued to explore and advance ever since.