Spoon Album Review

Lucifer on the Sofa (Matador)

Spoon Album Review

In considering the 10th studio album by Spoon, we take a moment to appreciate what kind of an underappreciated milestone that represents.

Among bands that can be considered part of the first- or second-generation American indie rock cohort, there are plenty of heroes (Pavement, Modest Mouse, the White Stripes, Death Cab for Cutie) who either couldn't keep it together long enough or have seen their output slowed to a crawl.

Lucifer on the Sofa finds Spoon joining the double-digit club (waddup Sonic Youth, Sleater-Kinney, Guided by Voices, Flaming Lips) in full control of the distinct talents and trademarks that have become familiar on the nine previous LPs – this one distinctly more driving and aggressive than predecessor Hot Thoughts, where synths and atmosphere were the ruling order.

The album's bookended by its two longest songs and two of the more ruminative tracks, leading off with a faithful cover of Smog's "Held" and closing with the title track that begins by showcasing moody, scene-setting saxophones for a late-night travelogue through Lavaca Street, West Avenue, thoughts about Dale Watson, and an unnamed someone who has left the narrator to deal with remnants that include records, cassette tapes, letters, pictures, and what lead man Britt Daniel paints to be a small fortune in cigarettes.

These character sketches and flashback moments have long been some of Spoon's most trusted songwriting tools, and here they create a vivid, if frequently bewildering, tableau that – thankfully – gains color and emotion from the compositions that seem almost second nature at this point for Daniel and co-founder Jim Eno.

We don't get much clarifying detail into why the nosy neighbors in lead single "The Hardest Cut" are banging on the narrator's door, though the chugga-chug of Daniel's guitar and Eno's percussion grabs most of the attention, hitting harder than this band has in quite some time. The pair's locked-in accord creates an urgency and mild paranoia that add more depth and detail to the causeless "world wars in my mind" that are aggrieving and aggravating the main character.

The album's interior songs – tracks two through nine – mostly depart from the somber nature of the opening and closing tracks with higher tempos, volume, and obvious hooks.

Second single "Wild" starts off with a tough but not overbearing stomp, riding a spiral of climbing guitar, piano patterns, and well-placed retreats that allow Daniel to tell us about the "trippers and askers" and other inhabitants of a world that can often feel like too much to take.

There is one important deviation from the album's mostly upbeat middle, by way of the haunting back-third ballad "Astral Jacket," that belongs in the pantheon of Spoon anthems even if it's far from anthemic. It begins with a mellow but sturdy piano line and Daniel's signature "Doo-dit-doo-doodoodoo" scat-sung line – the only time the technique is deployed on the whole record – before a multitracked vocal paints a two-line portrait: "God walks into the room softly/ You feel it when you hear that sound."

It's another of the ever-growing pile of Spoon songs where the listener is trusted to connect the dots and fill in the blanks regarding what exactly is or has transpired between the singer and the softly mentioned Sheila. Swallowed up in atmospherics led by Alex Fischel's keyboard, the song manages to sneak up and sneak away just as quickly, living out its mission statement lines, "In the blink of an eye, you can feel it/ You lose all track of time."

By this time we're left to getting mostly small surprises if no revelations from Spoon, and "Lucifer on the Sofa" has enough endearing moments to sit comfortably in the meaty middle of the band's catalog.

Creeping up on its third decade, the Daniel-Eno tandem is at the same point in its studio album life span as R.E.M. was when they gave us New Adventures in Hi-Fi and U2 was stadium marching in place with How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. By those benchmarks, Spoon is doing just fine, thank you very much.


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