TERRY GROSS, host:
The Austin, Texas quartet Spoon has just released its seventh album, called "Transference." Spoon is an indie band on a small record label that has gained widespread familiarity by having its songs played on TV shows like "Bones," "Scrubs," "Chuck" and "How I Met Your Mother." Rock critic Ken Tucker says their new album "Transference" should help make this band - which has been together now for 15 years - an even bigger success.
(Soundbite of song, "I Saw the Light")
SPOON (Rock Band): (Singing) Whenever your love can find me, it breaks through the walls to find me. It's breaking the walls to find me. I go out in the world. I made my case to the world. I saw the world and to the world. It asked me back again. It caused me love, hold me tight.
KEN TUCKER: Spoon's lead singer Britt Daniel likes to hear the sound of his own voice. I don't intend that as a criticism. When he enunciates the syllables that form his intentionally vague lyrics, he lets his vocal cords strain and fray. The result is a pleasing emotionalism - self-conscious, to be sure, but what indie rocker worth his salt isn't? And after 15 years of Spooning and pushing 40, Daniel knows what works for him. Yammering vocals that add grit to sleek guitar hooks and precise drumbeats - that's not a formula. That's an aesthetic.
(Soundbite of song, "Mystery Zone")
SPOON: (Singing) Picture yourself set up for good in a whole other life in the mystery zone. Make us a house, some far away town where nobody will know us well, where your dad's not around. And all the trouble you look for all your life, you will find it for sure in the mystery zone. Times that we met before we met (unintelligible). Times that we met, we'll go there to the mystery zone.
TUCKER: For a band that started out in the era of Nirvana, the alternative-rock style advanced by Spoon has moved into the mainstream. And that's without the band doing much to tinker with its sound, other than creating ever-more-tightly-wound songs, dense in the best sense. This is music that catches your ear immediately and then continues to give up new layers and meanings the more you listen. I'm thinking of a song like this, the ferociously obsessive "Trouble Comes Running."
(Soundbite of song, "Trouble Comes Running")
SPOON: (Singing) I was in a functional way and I have my brown sound jacket. Queen of call collect on my arm. She was my calm-me-down. She was my good-luck charm. She was my good luck. Here it come running. Here it come running again. Trouble come running. Here it come running again. Well alright.
TUCKER: For me, the high point of "Transference" is the Spoon equivalent of a rock opera. The song "Written in Reverse" is a lengthy rant in musical form. It's a great showcase for every member of the band: Rob Pope's strong bass-line giving the slinky melody a spine; the keyboards of Eric Harvey providing a nice Jerry Lee Lewis-style hammering that alternates with Jim Eno's drumming. Britt Daniel lets loose with the sort of one-chord eloquence that punks and early period Elvis Costello fans can admire as much as anyone else listening. And Daniel's raw singing shreds the phrases about a light bulb going off when his narrator confronts his lover's "blank stare."
(Soundbite of song, "Written in Reverse")
SPOON: (Singing) I'm writing this to you in reverse. Someone better call a hearse. I can see it all from here. From just a few glimpses, now that light bulb's gone off and it's pulling my wincing and now the light bulb's gone off. I've seen it in your eyes. I've seen you blankly stare and I wanna show you how I love you but there's nothing there. I'm not standing here. Oh I'm not standing here. And I'm writing in reverse. You know it could be worse. I'm not standing here. I'm not standing here.
TUCKER: On "I Saw The Light," the song I played at the start of this review, Britt Daniel sings, I make my case to the world. On songs like that, "Written in Reverse" and "Trouble Comes Running," Spoon bolsters its case: Accessibility comes wrapped in bleakness; the catchy arrives with a coating of romantic frustration. As he sings on yet another good song here, "Got Nuffin," quote, "Got nothing to lose but darkness and shadows." Don't you believe that for a minute.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed Spoons' new album "Transference."
(Soundbite of song, "Got Nuffin")
SPOON: (Singing) When I'm with you, all my brothers, oh I feel like a king. It feels like I'm dreaming. When that blood goes rattling through my veins, my ears start to ring. I notice what matters. And I got nothing to lose but darkness and shadows. Got nothing to lose but bitterness and patterns.
GROSS: Coming up, our TV critic David Bianculli reviews last night's season premier of "Lost," and he considers the whole "Lost" phenomenon.
This is FRESH AIR.
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