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Spoon – 'They Want My Soul' album review

A solid, straight-up indie rock record that hardly breaks an inch of new ground

To judge by this robust suite of steady-as-she goes indie, venerable Austin quintet Spoon seem happy maintaining their successful policy of ‘if it ain’t broke…’.

The online review aggregator Metacritic strikingly rates Spoon as the ‘overall top artist of the decade 2000-2009’, beating some pretty hefty contemporary rivals (including The White Stripes and Foo Fighters). They’ve never made much of a splash over here, maybe because the British charts have always been extremely well served for cute homegrown boys with guitars. But on the strength of this LP it’s possible – just about – to understand their evergreen appeal in the US.

The standout track on ‘They Want My Soul’ has to be ‘Do You’; workmanlike lyrically and unshowy of groove, this superficially drab affair is leavened by a chilling micro-tone backing vocal motif. But check out the video, where archetypally chiseled frontman Britt Daniel drives an old-school muscle car through the set of a disaster movie, and you’ll get it: as with everything Spoon do, retro tropes combine in ways that are just about fresh enough to pass muster. Only just about, mind.

Palatable, if unlikely to set anyone’s world on fire, the title track would probably sound all right at a high school pool party – but ‘I Don’t Understand’ has the unforgivably cringey whiff of psychedelia-by-numbers which marks, say, Beady Eye out as hopelessly anachronistic charlatans. America loves Spoon, the way they love Denny’s or the Republican Party. But most UK music – thank heavens – is light years ahead of this.
What do you think of ‘They Want My Soul’? Let us know in the comments box below or tweet us at @TimeOutMusic.

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Have to say that this review seems determinedly misinformed and patronisingly Anti-American (full disclosure: I'm British). Andy Hill is clearly ignorant of the band's back catalogue ("if it ain't broke, don't fix it"? - this album frequently makes sonic departures from previous efforts) and its importance within the American Indie Rock canon. Take the hyper-minimalist rock of 'Kill The Moonlight', an album that's deservedly lauded for the way it strips rock music back to its most basic elements and creates engaging, dynamic music. 

I agree with Hill that 'Do You' is the standout track here, but the lyrical content is hardly workmanlike:

[Verse 1]
I was on 45th
I was half out of a bag
Yeah I knew that you saw me
You laughed when I looked back
I thought I'd given up
Now I didn't feel so bad
And then a shock went through me
And then I walked right back

Do you want to get understood?
Do you want one thing or are you looking for sainthood?
Do you run when it's just getting good?
Or do you, do you, do you, do you...

[Verse 2]
Someone get popsicles
Someone's gotta do something bout this heat
Cause it's late in October
And tar's still melting in the streets

You tiptoe for ages and lose yourself
Flipping back pages, unbuckling belts

[Chorus 2]
Oh love, that's the way love comes
Do you, don't you know that that's the way love comes?
Do you feel it black and blue?
Or do you, do you, do you, do you...

There is weight to lines like "do you want to get understood? do you want one thing or are you looking for sainthood?" or "you tiptoe for ages and lose yourself flipping back pages, unbuckling belts", and humour and personality in the first verse. It also seems that Hill didn't watch the video to 'Do You' until the end, when the destruction of the "disaster movie" scene is revealed to have been wrought by giant toddlers. Not sure what Retro Trope this falls in with, unless he's thinking of 'Honey, I Blew Up The Kids', but I'm not sure that Moranis-vehicle has achieved trope status yet.

'I Just Don't Understand' is a cover of a 1961 track by Ann-Margret, the song having been made famous by The Beatles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EOJ7JgZivBk. "unforgivably cringey whiff of psychedelia-by-numbers" eh? More like a bona-fide classic, Spoon-ified. I'll admit, it might have done better as a B-side rather than an album track, but it's a far far cry from Beady Eye.

Even visually, Spoon do not match most of the descriptors used here: "cute homegrown boys with guitars" (they're in their mid-late 40s!), "archetypally chiseled frontman Britt Daniel" (no offence to Mr Daniel, but I doubt even he would consider himself chiseled). And to put them in the same bracket as Denny's and the Republican Party is just crass nonsense, barely concealed xenophobia in fact. Sure, anti-Americanism is en vogue, but it doesn't make you look big and clever.

All in all, I know music criticism is a subjective practice, but this review, which amounts to a 40/100 score, just makes TimeOut seem woefully out of step with critical consensus, and, if I may be so blunt (albeit with my tongue in my cheek), out of step with good taste too. Finally, the review's Us versus Them, "Brits are best", Hugh-Grant-in-Love-Actually attitude retracts from the credibility of the review. Saying that most UK music is light years ahead of this album just sounds silly.