We’ll just get this out of the way early: They Want My Soul is a fantastic album, and is a worthy addition to the Spoon canon. Once again, the band pulls off the incredibly difficult trick of writing a record that is true to their song, without sounding as if they’re recycling the same old ideas. Each track that reminds the listener of an older Spoon song doesn’t come off as a retread but instead forges new territory, and then the other songs finds Spoon branching off into new and exciting territories while still maintaining their identity for articulate, incisive music.
Each Spoon album reveals itself over time to have certain musical themes–Girls Can Tell focused on quiet, somber reflections, Kill The Moonlight found an edge through its use of piano, Gimme Fiction pulled back with its use of guitar, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga was straight pop music, and Transference deconstructed pop music. If I were to pinpoint a musical theme with They Want My Soul, it’d be something along the lines of seeking to revive one’s inner spirit. It seems self-evident if one looks at the album title itself, and the fact that for the first time in their career have a song and album share the same title seems to underline this. The song itself brings to mind a similar sentiment expressed in Wilco’s classic “Theologians”, but done this time with a bit more aggression and rebelliousness–not just in the lyrics, but in the attack of the guitars. There similar strains of this sentiment throughout, such as in the swagger of a song like “Rainy Taxi”, or in the defiance of “Inside Out”, with its aversion to “holy rollers”.
Spoon even is able to accomplish something that most rock bands at the turn of the century could only hope to pull off, and that’s to incorporate dance and electronic elements without coming off as gimmicky. “Outlier” is what Better Than Ezra was trying to accomplish with their album How Does Your Garden Grow? (and that’s coming from a rare fan of that album), in that the electronic percussion and dance beat seem to be an organic part of the song, and the processed guitars and keyboards actually enhance the song by providing both neat-sounding noises and actual melodies. “New York Kiss”, a collaboration with Semisonic’s former leader Dan Wilson (and the writer who helped Adele into a sensation, most notably with “Someone Like You”; a collaboration that’s hardly been mentioned in most reviews for the record) is an even deeper foray into dance territory, and is an irresistible pleasure to boot. My only issue is that I can’t think of the specific early-2000’s rock act that it reminds me of, but that in and of itself does not detract from the joy that naturally comes through when bouncing around to its beat.
Considering those two songs, it then becomes extremely irritating when you find critics complain that TWMS sounds like a typical Spoon record; go back and listen to those two songs, and then remind me again where Spoon delved into those styles previously. And these are people that are actually paid to write about music and presumably have ears. That said, when Spoon goes into their wheelhouse, they can still pack a punch. There’s their usual excellent cover, this time a version of Ann-Margret’s “I Just Don’t Understand”, where the band once again adopts that smokey and dark jazzy swing that they do so well, as well as their own brilliant original “Do You”. I’m glad that radio has switched over to this single instead of “The Rent I Pay” (a song where the previous criticism of repetition was more valid, but a song whose quality is strengthened when placed within the album as a whole than as a stand-alone track), since it’s hard to get enough of that deep groove and those ooh-ooh-ooh-oohs. Careful listens eventually reveal nifty little details, like the delicate layering of subtle background synth parts or the parabolic nature of the ooh-ooh parts, all while maintaining an infectious melody throughout.
That pretty much encapsulates the album as a whole as well–it’s been playing constantly in my car, on my stereo, and on my iPod since its release, and like all the Spoon albums before it, it’s unlikely to wear out its welcome anytime soon.