The Drama You've Been Craving
Monday Mar. 12, 2001
Spoon: The Picture Is Good
One of our great rock 'n' roll treasures learns the art of believing
By Michael Goldberg
"Believing is hard/ Believing is art," sings Spoon leader Britt Daniels on the group's new album, Girls Can Tell. I didn't get it, so I asked Britt what "Believing Is Art," the song's title, means.
At the time, about 9 PM on a Saturday night, we were sitting in the dark, in the van Britt had been in all day with his bandmates, driving up from Los Angeles, where they'd performed the previous night. Believing in yourself is an art, Britt told me, explaining his song. An art that he has yet to completely master.
I think he's right. The people we know our friends, our business associates tend to pigeonhole us. A writer is a writer, not a painter. A painter is a painter, not a filmmaker. And even within the boundaries, you keep being bombarded with questions casting doubt. Who do you write for? Are you freelance? Are your paintings shown anywhere? Oh, in a coffeehouse? I see....
It seems to be human nature to assume that nobody can do what they haven't done before. If you actually succeed at doing something new or different you immediately get put in a new pigeonhole, and the process starts all over again.
What Should Have Been Easier
It's damn hard to believe when the world doesn't get it, which is often. For Britt Daniels, a brilliant singer/songwriter and fine craftsman of amazing rock and pop songs, it has not been easy to believe.
Spoon garnered some acclaim recording for the indie label Matador Records, the label that essentially launched Pavement and Guided By Voices, among many others. After that, they signed with a major, Elektra Records which dropped Spoon in 1998, within months of releasing the masterpiece A Series of Sneaks. The words of another Girls Can Tell song, "Lines in the Suit," evoke those times: "The picture has come down/ I'm taking it off and throwing it out/ The picture is about what could have been easier...." And a few lines later: "How come I feel so washed up/ At such a such a tender age?"
Once he and his bandmate, drummer/co-producer Jim Eno, had completed Girls Can Tell, Britt told me, they sent copies of it to every record company they thought might be interested.
Now you have to understand that when the album was done, Britt was ecstatic. Sitting in the van the other night, he told me several times that he thinks it's the best thing Spoon have recorded; he's really proud of the album.
As the guy who made the album, he can only say so much without sounding like an egomaniac, which he certainly isn't, and doesn't. I agree with him, and I don't have that problem.
Pop Kinda Rock 'N' Roll Voice
The music on Girls Can Tell is real exciting. It makes me feel the way I feel when I listen to the Pixies or Nirvana or Big Star that kind of exciting. While the music is playing, the world feels all different. But it's Britt Daniels' voice that really carries the day. He sings the lead, he sings the chorus, he sings the backup harmony. He's like Lennon and McCartney. He's got that pop kinda rock 'n' roll voice.
You listen to Girls Can Tell, and then you listen again. Once you hear this music, it can't be denied. Are Spoon the best rock 'n' roll band around? One of 'em, at least. Listening to this album, you could get the sense that bands don't make music like this anymore.
There's mystery in the music, in the words, in the song titles. With Girls Can Tell, it might seem that Spoon are getting more straightforward, easier to understand than on previous recordings. The lyrics to all the songs are even included in the booklet (something Britt didn't do in the past). But then you read those lyrics and they still don't spell it all out. There's still room for interpretation. You still sit there wondering what "the wall" is in "Chicago at Night."
Back To Cowtown
I've listened to Girls Can Tell dozens of times over the past two months. Songs I first heard as rushes of melody and sound have now come into focus, yielding new meaning. Girls Can Tell is about many things, but I certainly hear two concurrent stories: one about the end of a relationship ("I go to sleep but think that you're next to me," goes a line from "Everything Hits at Once"); the other about the near end of a career ("Tough break handjob sent me back home to ma/ Back to cowtown and the fish shop and the mall," is a line from "Take A Walk").
At first, only one record company Spoon had sent the album to had a positive response: Matador. But they'd been on Matador, and Britt, who says he has the greatest respect for that label's founder, Gerard Cosloy, wasn't sure that everyone at the label shared Cosloy's enthusiasm. I think he also wanted to try working with someone new, only there was no one else. How depressing must that have been? Real hard to "believe" under those circumstances. Finally, another label came calling: Merge Records. And so what already looks to be one of the best albums of 2001 was released in late February.
So the story ends with a neat, fairy-tale-like ending. Only it's not the end. And Britt's living in a pretty crummy place in Austin, and he doesn't have much money, and now he's thinking about going back to school. That's not how I want this to end. I hope you'll take a chance on Girls Can Tell. If they don't have it at your local record store, it's as close as one of those online CD stores. And if you like it, email all your friends and encourage them to check it out. Spoon make this world a better place. And believing is art.
Michael Goldberg is the president of insiderone.net. He founded Addicted To Noise in 1994.
© 2001 Michael Goldberg. All rights reserved.