It's Only Rock And Roll, But It's Not: A Look At Spoon's 'Slay On Cue' Catalogue Reissue

Image by Oliver Haflin

Prominent, attention-grabbing bands come and go. That’s not to say that they weren’t able, more that their appeal fades or sadly the hype dies down. Spoon belongs in an entirely different category altogether. With a long and winding road ahead, the outfit made its entry into the industry, forming in Texas during the early 90s. And although their reputation in the UK may not be as behemoth as other rock names, the consistency and quality they manufacture is phenomenal, earning them the utmost respect by those people who oughta know. At the helm is Britt Daniel and Jim Eno, with other sailors joining and leaving the ship along the way.

An announcement to prick up the ears of any music aficionado is the reissue of rare or vintage vinyl and CDs. In a staggered release, Spoons’ Slay On Cue catalogue is now widely available worldwide. The reissues include eight records, with some having not been around for years and others not even on sale in the first place.

For the offing, July 2020 offered LP Telephono (96): a debut, armed with understated, exposed vibrations that matured as the band found their groove. It is a straight forward affair and not eminently melodic in places. Daniel’s voice is already stand out from these baby days, along with his renowned quirk of turning the air blue, while Jim’s dynamic drums spark a garage DIY youthfulness. All The Negatives Have Been Destroyed emits pulsating electricity, as it purveys that dreadful sense of confusement at the end of a relationship: “If you want, you can never leave, and if you want, you can let her go.”

In the same month, there was the contribution of Soft Effects (96); Soft Effects by name and Soft Effects, kind of, by nature, especially uncovered in Waiting For The Kid To Come Out and the poppy outpouring of Loss Leaders. Mountain Of Sound showcases the guitar in bursts of sound, which will find us again down the line. There is an amiable feel to it and a slight turn of a corner in a directional sense, but Get Out The State is the thunderous cloud overhead.

We arrive in August now for A Series Of Sneaks (98) for the next dose of Low-Fi Indie Rock, which required time and resonation before people felt value; it seemed like the final hurrah before Spoon firmly found their full Spooness. With plenty of angles exuded, Metal Detektor is a gratifying gentle number, where a person is pushed as far as the humanly can be; they are terribly desperate: “Just going to break the bank of Texas and walk right out and make the sound of getting kicked when you're down.

Reaching the album that managed to get volumes hooked: Girls Can Tell (01) accepted high praise across the board from fans, bands and critics alike. Recognising a more conventional structure and glossier production, it is traditional rock we hear, but the voice, drums, riffs and art tendencies make the title of ‘traditional’ quite impossible. Acute pain apparent, opener Everything Hurts At Once utilises the mellotron and vibraphone and sounds all the better for it, as does its peer Anything You Want.

Last to come in this clement summer month was another preferred, adored by many piece, Kill The Moonlight (02): a smart bundle of everything that had come before working together completely but, as they do, basking in the unconventional. With its constant drum stick beat, favourite Paper Tiger is peculiar and doesn’t have a great deal of substance, yet it is an astounding song, wizardry. An angsty concept, All The Pretty Girls Go To The City shares that Nick Cave wild, clunky approach to the piano.

To September now and the last three releases in the collection, commencing with Gimmie Fiction (05), marking the occasion of the band entering the Billboard 200 for the first time. Elements were re-added plumping their output, with the guitar at the forefront at times, ending in an album that takes trust and attention but grows on you with familiarity. Sexy prickles and funk are found in the dancy falsetto maintaining I Turn My Camera On, inspired by the purple Prince himself. Last orders at a desolate, smoke-filled whisky bar sum up the aura of The Beast And The Dragon, Adored, with that Jack White loose and lush guitar playing.

Not all it is cracked up to be, mainstream is not always a best fit, but if ever there was a record that nearly launched Spoon into that territory, it would be named as Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (07). Ripe with shades and an introspective look, for instance, the overlapping, ghoulish vocals and keys of force for The Ghost Of You Lingers represent someone struggling badly, but the one soul they need to help them is not there anymore: "The ghost of you lingers, It lingers, And I always think about it, Oh, would you calm me down?” sits with RnB closer, the orchestral Black Like Me communicating longing.

Lastly, landing at our final part of this puzzle: Transference (10). Emotional songwriting is delivered in an offering to turn the cogs and invite thought. Upbeat The Mystery Zone is brilliance with gradual rising to the enticing keys- loud for attention- spot-on production and a razor sharp end of bluntness. It should be noted that some of the tracks retained their rawness and demo state, shown most in Goodnight Laura: a coarse, genuine piano track that turns out to be sweet.

And that, I guess, is that. It took a wee while to revisit all eight works, yet I have to say that it was bliss. This is not a full stop; two more albums followed after- They Want My Soul and Hot Thoughts- and more to follow we should hope. When we had the sheer luxury of gigs, the group were part of the historic USA run with Beck and Cage The Elephant in 2019, performing in picturesque amphitheatres enchanting the audience and reminding us that rock is not dead. Their understated artistry is curious; to go from Paper Town to Black Like Me say, and still sound like the exact same inventors is where they have the upper hand. The Strokes are the most mainstream underground band in town, and Spoon also joins them in that league of fine gentleman. They are always the same; they are always different. I know it's only rock and roll, yet with Spoon, it is just not.

Article by Beverley Knight