A typical Spoon song starts off cluttered and jumbled and in less than a minute it turns into a memorable pop song. It’s a crafty attempt to make the pop perfection of the rest of the song sound like an accident, but because of the band’s daft musicianship, the catchiness is anything but an accident. Think of it as Wilco in reverse.
One of Spoon’s greatest talents is its ability to emulate past pop greats while still sounding totally original. Britt Daniel’s vocals sound like a mushmouthed marriage of early Mick Jagger and Ray Davies. True, many hipster garage bands try to emulate early Stones, but Spoon has distanced itself from that crowd by including piano and horns, which are generally perceived as uncool in modern rock.
While Spoon has yet to release a bad album, their 2002 disc Kill The Moonlight may be its best album. Much has been made about Daniel’s vocals, but the album showcases Spoon’s secret weapons: the sparse piano and tambourine work of Eggo Johanson and drummer Jim Eno. The opening beats of “Small Stakes” pull the listener into Daniel’s lyrics, which initially sound like a weekend anthem: “It’s all right Friday night to Sunday / It feels alright keep your mind on the page,” before Daniel sobers things up with a line like “The big innovation on the minimum wage / Is lines up your nose, but your life on the page so c’mon.”
Daniel has said in interviews he focuses more on sound than lyrics, worrying more about how the syllables sound against the musical backdrop than making it in the poetry world. Ironically, it is that very approach that makes seemingly random tossouts like “atom bombs and blunt razors!” that sound more poetic and alive than many of his contemporary songwriting peers.
The first half of Kill the Moonlight seems like a showcase of Spoon’s talents. We have the band showing its Motown mojo with “The Way We Get By,” street level garage rock with “Jonathon Fisk” and sexiness in “Stay Don’t Go.” But the album really comes into true form during the last half of the album as the breezy guitar work of John Clayton and Mike McCarthy effortlessly glide against Johanson’s piano in “Don’t Let it Get You Down.” The song leads into four more dead-on perfect pop songs.
The album closes with the heartfelt “Vittorio E.”, a song that lyrically could have been a momentum killer for the band (“I took a river and it wouldn’t let go / I want you to stay and I want you to go”) but once again, the guitar and piano provide some much needed gravity, making Daniel’s aching plea of “hold on” sound like a rallying cry. With “Small Snakes” and “Vittorio E.” serving as bookends, Kill the Moonlight becomes not only a great album for Spoon, but an excellent pop album in general.