Monday, March 1, 2010

Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

Prior to listening to Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (which, admittedly, is very fun to type), I only knew Spoon by two songs, which I liked: "The Way We Get By" was used in a film I love, Stranger Than Fiction, and this album's "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb" was hyped as one of the better songs of 2007 by a lot of critics. This album, too, was hyped in 2007 but I never got around to it until now. I dove in to Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga after discovering that another of its' songs, "The Underdog", has appeared in two more of my personal pop culture loves (How I Met Your Mother and I Love You, Man.) Since TV shows and movies have become a better source for good music than radio in the last decade, and people doing work I love like this band, the time came to make the plunge, and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga seemed the natural first step.

It turns out the two songs I'd heard coming in spoiled the party a little bit. "Cherry Bomb" and "Underdog" are the clear highlights here. The other songs on Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga barely raise above "filler" at their best, though to their credit few of them are ever bad either. The problem seems to be anonymity; few of the remaining songs carve out an identity for themselves. Instead, they lie flat but charmingly over a relatively consistent sonic landscape that sounds like John Mellencamp's steely acoustic guitar wandered over to Elvis Costello's rhythm section and threw in Wilco's piano and dissonant production for good measure.

I didn't have a hard time picking out other influences on the tracks that are more idiosyncratic, either. "Eddie's Ragga" is a nice bit of alterna-ska, and would have made a good outtake from The Clash's London Calling. "The Ghost of You Lingers" is the other sonically unique number here, with piano taking lead in a bizarre, LCD Soundsystem-covering-"Maniac"-from-Flashdance sort of way with vocal overdubbing and odd sonic pulses folding it into a claustrophobic paranoia. When I first listened to it, I panned it. On second listen, I give it more credit; it's at least more daring than the rest of the album.

If Spoon is a great band, this isn't their strongest album, but I see the potential. That lies pretty exclusively in the two songs I knew coming in. Both songs are the sort of tuneful, pop-tinged indie rock songs that gives the genre hope. Most indie rockers forget the importance of melody, instead relying on wit and a good riff. "Cherry Bomb" and "Underdog" give singer Britt Daniel the best two vocal lines on the album to sing with his charmingly limited pipes. He's got a raspy voice without much power, so he'd either be best suited for a punk band (which he isn't in, at least here) or a melodic rock band lifting his voice with good tunes. "Cherry Bomb" and "Underdog" are united by their great melodies. Fortunately, Spoon also had the good taste to bring in a horn section for both songs, accentuating the positive and lifting them higher into the pop stratosphere. These are two excellent songs, standing as twin towers over which the rest of the album is hung limply.

I don't have much else to add about Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, except to emphasize that I don't think it's a bad album. I don't think it's a great album, but these "filler" songs strewn across the few highlights aren't bad. They are solid, well-executed songs that aren't very memorable. Even great albums have anonymous songs. It's just that, on a greater album, there'd be less of them. Here they are the standard and the exceptions are the better songs. That doesn't make it a bad album, just an average one.


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