Tonight, as I rode home on the bus, I watched a guy play football on his Nintendo DS. Admittedly, it was kind of creepy, but I couldn’t stop watching because he was absolutely killing the computer opponent. Every time he had possession, he would score and convert the two extra points. And every time the computer had possession, he would force a fumble or pick off a pass. Turnovers literally on every computer possession. I did see a pretty nice safety, too. I watched the first two quarters of the game. At the half, this guy was up 80 – 0. I’m not kidding. That was the gaudy score that flashed on his screen before it cut to some animated cheerleaders. 80 – 0. I kept wondering how this guy could derive any pleasure playing a game that he had clearly mastered.
Spoon is the guy on the bus running up the score. They will never record a bad album. They will also never record a masterpiece. (Likewise, the guy on the bus will always have a good game; he’ll just never play a nail-bitter.) Much as I really do like the band, I will never get worked up for the release of a new album. I was excited to listen to the new album, Transference, on NPR. But the fact of the matter is that Spoon is merely a very good band.
They have become so adept at their brand of white boy soul that they appear almost joyless at times. While I thoroughly enjoy so many of their Spoon formula songs, I find myself attracted to the moments when they seem to challenge themselves. Think about the one or two formal experiments that they allow themselves per album: “Stay Don’t Go,” “Paper Tiger,” “Was It You?” “The Ghost of You Lingers.” These are previews of what Spoon could but will never be as a band. They will never record a full album of songs that push them as a band, even as Spoon itself. And, of course, the best moment on Transference is the experimental piece, “Who Makes Your Money.” Over a repeated organ chord and the metronomic snap of a snare, Britt Daniel’s voice sounds exhausted. But when the woozy chorus hits, with its titular question, he allows himself to improvise his soul man spasms. The details of the song are great: the bass rides low, throbbing darkly underneath that organ, a shaker fills out the song’s rangy dynamics. What’s so surprising about the song is how comfortable the band sounds in this space. They could push themselves like this more often, but I think they’d rather just opt for the play that will always end in a touchdown.
Last I checked, by the way, the score was 112 – 0 and Transference is good. Shame really.