Fickle first listens can be deceiving and quite unexpected, especially when they’re from a band who’ve finally manoeuvered themselves into the upper reaches of the charts, as Spoon did with 2007’s garbled masterpiece Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. What you don’t want to do is give these new record buyers something lacking immediacy and cohesiveness.
Armed to give Transference a pasting, second and third spins still mystify but perhaps with the barrier of commercial success now broken, Spoon are free to take a chance, to make an album that had to be worn in, rather than welcomed in. Whereas prior Spoon albums began with a statement of intent or an album defining song, “Before Destruction” rattles with the sound of a hammond organ, Daniel’s familiar acoustic strum rising toward a chorus that never comes, giving the feel of a band warming up to the task ahead.
Transference does a good job of distancing itself from the rollicking poptones of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga and Gimme Fiction, if that were its intention. Recorded piece-meal in various studios up and down the country and produced by the band themselves, many of the tracks rub uncomfortable shoulders with each other. “Before Destruction” warms the speakers before “Is Love Forever?” bursts out with an off-kilter beat, breaking into a sub-standard Spoon rhythm track and dubbed-out vocals. To put such filler as track two is worrying.
There is no “I Turn My Camera On” and “The Underdog” on this record, which on past albums there was no need to go searching for, but there’s a distinct absence of an ear-catching, stride-stopping moment. In its place you have the false finish of “Written In Reverse”, a track recognisably Spoon but which fails to meet expectation. Unhelmed by any definite verse or chorus, Daniel barks out some nonsensical lyrics and the track builds to an empty crescendo, restarting with a pointless verse recap.
“Mystery Zone” shows potential with the interaction of swaying key/bass/drums in perfect syncopation, but it establishes a groove and stays there. It’s like listening to expensive demos borne from undeveloped jam sessions. Daniel’s hushed vocals on synth/beat driven track “Who Makes Your Money” is a nod toward Prince, a slogan for the times, but not quite ‘sign o’ the times’. As a lyricist, Daniel has excelled over the years, but seems to have given up any kind of story-telling songwriting in favour of vague oft-repeated phrases.
At best, there’s enough material on Transference to make a mini album. The Beatle-esque piano ballad “Goodnight Laura”, a track that might’ve found better place on Daniel’s rumoured solo album and “Out Go The Lights” lift the quality level, but the presence of “Got Nuffin”, a track released the previous year is out of place. The album closes with “Nobody Gets Me But You”, a strange attempt to inhibit a weird indie-dub sound, that in Daniel’s hands just sounds sloppy.
Transference is definitely not Spoon’s finest hour, but for a band who’ve nary put a foot wrong since 1994’s Series of Sneaks, you’d be inclined to overlook it.