Friday, March 21, 2014

DB's Song of the Day (day 80):"THE BEAST AND DRAGON, ADORED" (2005), Spoon

The visit back home included some time with Kajsa, strolling about in Old New Castle by the Delaware in happy-go-gusty March, talking about music, as we will. And one of the topics was one of the bands we both find to our liking these days: Spoon, from Austin, TX. Kajsa first brought around some of their music with Kill the Moonlight (2001), their fourth LP, in spring 2003. They’ve been hotter and hotter since then, with Gimme Fiction (2005), Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (2007), and their best yet, Transference (2010).

Today’s song is one of my favorites by them, from Gimme Fiction. Which, by the way, is a great title. What the title of “The Beast and Dragon, Adored” means I’m not at all sure. But enough of the song’s lyrics are intelligible to me to make it seem somewhat anthemic:

I got a feelin’
It don't come cheap
I got a feelin’
Oh and then it got to me
It took its time a-working into my soul
I got to believe it come from rock and roll
Believe it come from rock and roll

It’s not too big a stretch to say that whatever feelings I can most readily identify “come from rock and roll.” Literature, movies, poetry, art, and even other people—sure, they all inspire “a feelin’,” but rock and roll is in a sense the great motivator, at least once I learned to call it that. For a time, I know, rock and roll was all that Fifties music, y’know, like “Rock Around the Clock,” and so it was get up and boogie music, not nearly expansive enough to work into my soul, as Britt Daniels sings here. What that took was the British Invasion and the kinds of white soul it inspired. And Daniels and Spoon are all over that. 

What makes me appreciate Spoon’s sound is the way they seem to play deconstructed rock songs. Often they take the song down to its basic chords and don’t bother to fill in the rest. This makes for a very spare, skeletal sound that, in its acceptance by my soul (or earholes), owes something to Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002). Though you’ll note that Spoon was already on that path; it’s just that I didn’t hear them till after Wilco got my attention. Anyway, drummer Jim Eno also has a lot to do with the success of this sound as there is very little of the boogie beat, per se. Very crisp, very precise, the drums in Spoon songs are often the lead instrument, with the guitars and keyboards filling in on the pattern. A song like “Beast and Dragon” seems to be slipping away from a tune, which is why it’s so satisfying when they crank it up with “Great dominions, they don’t come cheap / Great dominions, they just want you to leave.” Which by the way is an interesting phrasing. You could almost hear it as “Great dominions!” Like, “holy cow, they don’t come cheap.” But what doesn’t come cheap are the great dominions, the dominions “they” want you to leave. You’re being evicted from the great dominions for being some kind of slacker.

On the slacker score, I really like “I been learning my scene / I been watching my friends move away.” That’s killer. If your scene is a college town, you see a lot of people move away. The scene is where you are, where you’re stuck maybe, and maybe it’s worth “learning” it, though as friends move away it may be less and less the scene one aimed at: “I had to find the feelin’ again,” “All I need is a crew,” “The meaning sat tight / Said ‘it’s not what you expected but it could be right.’” Well, there’s hope. And “when you believe they call it rock and roll.”

So, the song is about believing in rock and roll, certainly. But it’s also about believing in the things—the feelin’—that rock and roll makes possible. And maybe even the scene and the crew and the great dominions inspired by that sound. Because, while it’s fun to talk about songs and music and words, the hardest thing to describe and account for is the sound. Spoon’s sound is consistent and continues to develop. The guitar parts on Transference are more advanced—or, at least, they do more for the songs—than on previous albums.  Which is a way of commenting once again on the idea that bands don’t really hit their stride till they get past the fourth album mark.

And remember, friends, “when you don’t feel it, it shows, they tear out your soul.” And when you do, well, call it rock’n’roll. 

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