It’s been nearly five years since Spoon last released an album. That’s the longest period between albums in the band’s career. Even the wait between Transference and They Want My Soul, a break where band members went off and did side projects, was only four and a half years. Much of this gap might be expected due to COVID-related delays. Lucifer on the Sofa was a record described as “nearly finished” as far back as early 2020. Whatever tweaking happened over the past two years, the result is a lean, often hard-hitting album with typically sharp songwriting from frontman/guitarist Britt Daniel.
The lead single “The Hardest Cut” exemplifies this approach. A driving minor-key groove opens the song with muted but tense guitar chords. The guitar riffs get more catchy as the track builds to the chorus, which climaxes in several stabs of detuned guitar. The second run through the refrain shifts into a messy but intense guitar solo, and the song ends abruptly after the third chorus’ guitar stabs. This hard rock version of Spoon only surfaces occasionally, but the track’s status as the album’s first single is telling. The focus of Lucifer on the Sofa is different from 2017’s surprisingly sexy Hot Thoughts and about as far away from 2014’s relaxed, synth-heavy They Want My Soul as the band can get.
Nothing else on the album has quite as much punch as “The Hardest Cut”, although opener “Held” comes close. The song lopes along on a funky beat from drummer Jim Eno and a swinging mid-tempo guitar riff. Daniel sounds energized, letting out shouts of “Woo!” and “Alright” as he sings. The key lines in the song are vulnerable ones, where Daniel declares, “For the first time in my life / I let myself be held / Like a big old baby.”
The track takes full advantage of the group’s first official album as a five-piece band. It allows a second guitar to swoop and buzz around the edges while the main riff continues. There’s a looseness to the song, not a quality usually associated with Spoon. The track opens with instruments noodling around and quiet chatter before the music kicks in. Later, off-mic but audible, Daniel tells the group, “Let’s do the fill twice as long before the break!” That indeed leads to an extended drum fill from Eno a few moments later.
Spoon have been known for their mid-tempo tracks, and the middle of Lucifer on the Sofa is filled with them. Daniel co-wrote the second single, “Wild” with Bleachers and Fun. pop maestro Jack Antonoff. It rides along on a bed of spritely 16th notes from strumming guitars and Eno’s hi-hat cymbals. That gives the song momentum, but its actual pace is relatively relaxed. Interestingly, while the verses nicely set up the soaring chorus, the song never drops the 16th notes. Either the hi-hat or the guitar keeps the track chugging along the entire way.
“My Babe” has a warm, welcoming tone, accentuated by big, open piano chords. Lyrically, the song seems a bit simplistic for Spoon, but an unabashed love song is a nice change of pace. The refrain, “Sign my name / Hold my breath / Sing my heart out / Beat my chest for / My babe,” is easy to pick up on for listeners. Keeping the track as simple as its sentiment, with chiming guitar chords that match the piano, works in Spoon’s favor. Immediately following, the pounding minor-key groove of “Feels Alright” seems much heavier, despite the tempo being almost the same as “My Babe”. Jagged guitars line up with the piano in the verses, and although the chorus lightens up the mood a bit, this is more of a classic Spoon track. The song is driven by the groove, while Daniel’s voice and occasional guitar leads give it personality.
“On the Radio” lifts the pace a bit, appropriate for one of the record’s more rocking tracks. A piano riff and Eno’s propulsive drumming drive the song. The verses have tension, anticipating the big open chorus, where Daniel repeats, “On the radio!” By contrast, “Astral Jacket” is the album’s gentlest song. Electric piano, acoustic guitar, and timpani hits give the track a significantly different mood from the rest of the record. Daniel sings two or three layers of vocals, with harmonies and doublings that don’t always quite line up. The band is content to sit and be quiet here, just letting the song flow.
Lucifer on the Sofa also includes two songs about, well, demons. “The Devil and Mister Jones” comes first, showing up as a change of pace after the intense opening of “Held” and “The Hardest Cut”. It’s a smoother track that includes keyboard flourishes, subtle horns, and slightly bluesy guitar solos. Its vibe reminded me of the classic Spoon track, “The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine”. Both songs are cautionary tales about shady figures and effectively add tension to an otherwise easygoing tune.
The title track closes the album with a distant, reverb-heavy sax solo, gentle electric piano, and a steady, unobtrusive beat from Eno. Lyrically the song seems to be about the emotional fallout from a breakup. The band leaves the guitars out, enhancing its wistful, downbeat feeling. It’s a muted way to end the record, but not all the different from Hot Thoughts. That collection finished with a downbeat, saxophone-heavy instrumental. Spoon are content to finish things on a pensive note these days.
Speaking of Hot Thoughts, that album set an incredibly high bar, especially coming from a band over 20 years into their career. Lucifer on the Sofa is a very satisfying listen with a handful of genuinely great tracks, but it doesn’t quite reach the same heights as that record. Even so, Lucifer is another worthy addition to the band’s extensive catalog of fabulous records. It’s great to hear the band getting a little loose and rocking out. The amount of variety Daniel and company manage to pack into ten songs while still feeling cohesive is impressive. The lack of flashy personality makes Spoon easy to overlook, but as always, the songwriting and performance are top-notch.