Wind Britt Daniel any tighter and he still won’t burst. For 20 years, Spoon have recorded wary, taut, almost-rock songs whose minimalist trappings contain maximalist urges. Paranoia is Daniel’s muse, a paranoia unmoored from referents—recognizable ones at any rate. “Everything Hits at Once,” “Don’t Make Me a Target”—it always feels like somebody’s watching Britt. Their tenth album, Lucifer on the Sofa, sets aside the electronic gewgaws of Hot Thoughts and They Want My Soul for Spoon’s loudest record yet. These songs, at last, rock in every sense of the word; they even refer at times to recognizably heterosexual scenarios to which Daniel has alluded on songs like “The Mystery Zone.” And the Austin quintet pulls it off without Daniel sacrificing any of their savory inscrutability. To love? Safe. A target? Not so fast.
Proving their fealty to the usual career arcs, Spoon followed the Experimental Album with the Back to Basics Album, assembled over two years and aggravated by COVID worries (as if Daniel needed something else to chew his fingernails about). Mark Rankin, who has produced Queens of the Stone Age and Adele, joins Dave Fridmann and Justin Raisen in thickening the mix. You can hear the money on “The Hardest Cut” and the Smog cover “Held,” where the instruments tear a hole in the sky. The new bassist Ben Trokan locks in with longtime drummer Jim Eno, perfecting the welcome looseness with which the band experimented on Hot Thoughts.
If music were clothes, Spoon’s would be a fitted shirt; they named a 2001 song after one. Their preppy sternness and the intermittent submission to supervised anarchy—so much depends on the erotic allure of Daniel’s six-string squalls, manipulated with the ease of a casanova who has calculated the impact of a messy kiss. His chalky bray, an amalgam of Texas country dudes and English pubsters like Nick Lowe, is a match. Assisted by recruit Gerardo Larios and multi-instrumentalist Alex Fischel, the loudest songs reek of sex. On “Satellite” Daniel becomes a lonely planet boy in orbit around a beloved, wagging his finger: “I know where you draw the line/I know what you draw it for.” The title track centerpiece, an aural sequel to They Want My Soul‘s “Inside Out,” observes a flâneur cruising up Lavaca in skinny-ass jeans hearing Dale Watson tunes in his head. Like Bryan Ferry in Roxy Music’s “Street Life,” he hears poetry in white noise. Sampled sax bleats echo the traffic; Fischel’s electric piano lines reflect the blue mood.
These admissions of ardor are forthright—Daniel is the least accidental of songwriters—but you can be forthright and vague too. Whether, ick, remarking on “God walking in the room softly” on “Astral Jacket,” or, ugh, toying with conventionality on “My Babe,” he’s like a candidate for public office taking a position; he’s passionate about coming across as passionate. He has welcome respites, though. Those guitars crackle on “Feels Alright,” a declaration of aloneness with more conviction than the valentines; he gets how our culture regards couplehood as an emblem of maturity. “On the Radio” even summons the paranoia of yore for an account of Daniel’s device keeping tabs on him, which, in 2022, well, why not.
Determined to give fans a jolly time after a five-year absence, Lucifer on the Sofa doesn’t let up and won’t change minds. Range, like relationships, means shit with enthusiasm this committed and with consistency this compelling. Yet I miss the darker moods evoked on Hot Thoughts‘ “WhisperI’llistentohearit,” on which Daniel, over an electronic pulse, issues threats with the zest of a professional cad. Lucifer‘s pleasures assert the pure good of form—for example, the oblique Stones quote in Fischel’s piano part for the Jack Antonoff co-write (!) “Wild.” A rangy sensualist for whom playing the reprobate gives him an excuse to play with cool pedals and stuff, Daniel lets his guitars flesh out his suggestive, gnomic verse, and he moves me in mysterious ways (I should know). The hint of threat—the way the vague warnings come disguised as songs—keeps him alert during this permanent standoff with an unnamed enemy.
Buy: Rough Trade