Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

(Merge; 2007)

By Conrad Amenta | 29 February 2008

For all those who took the time to write in after I gave Bloc Party a dressing down; for those who post on distant message boards about how you “used to like cokemachineglow before that turd reviewed LCD Soundsystem”; for those who feel that Patrick Wolf’s knee-highs are a legitimate form of songwriting or that Trent Reznor is a leader; for the apparent legion of you who firmly believe that when I criticize something it’s because deep inside me, at my absolute center and rotten core, there’s a tiny man who’s lost the capacity to truly love music, to gab and gab in unending sentences about nothing but the solitary spark of that one special new album: to all of you, I present Spoon’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. I will physically fight you over even so much as the slightest besmirch of its stupid fucking title.

And look at these titles: Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb,” “Don’t You Evah,” even the misleading “Black Like Me.” There’s a level where Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is a Dadaist creed, where Spoon is named after the song of the same name by Can for the German film Das Messer (which translates to The Knife), the same level upon which any of that is of any relevance to anything. And then there’s another level (I don’t know if it’s higher or lower), a level where Weezer put out a certain blue album that retails for $5.99 and still plays better than half the things in our collections of records that were huge two or three years ago. Is music like this literate right over our heads or an unremitting bullshit joke? Is this serious stuff, with its stark photo of some long ago artist captured by another, or a simulation of a re-telling of an inside joke? Can any of us discount the possibility that one day Britt Daniel might write a lyric like “What’s with these homies / dissin’ my girl / Why do they gotta front?,” something in the same vein as “street tar in summer / will do a job on your soul,” but still have the sense to balance it with something as pure as “If you were here / would you calm me down?” “Don’t You Evah” is a cover of a band that most of us have never heard, the Natural History, but now it’s more Spoon’s than theirs. I know what the Natural History must feel like: we may as well all be absorbed and subsumed into rock music this universal. Jokers are usually jerks who point at those who don’t get it for the benefits of those who do; Spoon let everyone in on it while letting them know that they don’t get it either, and that’s the real joke.

Spoon can be, and increasingly are, both that fresh and that instantly reachable. Rock archetypes are bled of their bored extremism and turned into minimal (though not minimalist) masterpieces, but their core is still fizzing cherry cola. The way each tone sounds is as important as Daniel’s seemingly idiosyncratic lyrics. The thing is, besides the overreaching and silly “Japanese Cigarette Case,” it’s all still so believable; the tonality of Daniel’s joke is convincing enough — I can’t type out any of these lyrics the way that he can sing them, can’t write something like “square couches / short legs and / square shoulders / pot holders / egg n’ soldiers” and have it make sense the way it does when his voice delivers it with such warm snap.

If Spoon is a band that simply has great taste, their selection of aesthetics — both in terms of production and performance — are reflections of that taste. This is a great record because the band making it is selective enough to allow only choice sounds to float to the surface. To wit, I remember being in a car with my father when “I Turn My Camera On” came on the radio. The crackly noise at the end was clarified shortly afterwards during a short interview with Daniels: “I don’t know, it’s just something I came up with on my computer. That part felt like it needed something.” That little insight doesn’t change or invalidate that he felt that the song needed something, and it did, and he put something in, and it sounds fucking awesome. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga has about three thousand of these moments, waiting to have the drop cloth torn down to reveal that they’re exactly what you suspected they were all along.

The not-quite electronics of the bridge to “Finer Feelings” may, in all of its simple glory, be the best twenty seconds or so of Spoon’s entire career. The band elevate themselves above the torturously compelling need to “evolve” in any way beyond “this record sounds a bit different than the last, just in unexpected ways”; there is nothing fraught or troubled about this group despite their facing challenges with which any band should now be familiar. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is a title that makes me feel silly typing this next sentiment out, and the silliness I feel is appropriate given the band’s lightness and (maybe even unprecedented) balance between sonic exploration and classic accessibility: this record is a legitimate model for how to write knowing rock music. Last year I thought Grizzly Bear’s Yellow House was the album of the year and would proclaim as much to anyone who would bother to listen to me; I think Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is the album of this year and maybe of the next, and I’ll wear a “Yellow House is terrible” t-shirt for just one more opportunity to bask in the recorded simulation of Daniels and mates’ winning company, to listen to “The Underdog” and nearly die in traffic every time the last refrain of horns introduces a higher harmony and then ascends to its cacophonous finale.

“The Ghost of You Lingers” through to “The Underdog” is the best sequence of music by Spoon in an already amazing catalogue. Yes, better than “Everything Hits at Once” to “The Fitted Shirt” from Girls Can Tell (2001), better than “30 Gallon Tank” to “June’s Foreign Spell” from A Series of Sneaks (1998), and better than “The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine” to “Sister Jack” from 2005’s Gimme Fiction. The sequence is so good that “Don’t Make Me a Target” becomes almost an afterthought, despite picking up almost literally where Gimme Fiction left off. Because, again and again, there waits the perfect solo piano of “The Ghost of You Lingers,” the way it hangs for only a moment on a shaking string of ambient noise before “Cherry Bomb” starts with a single reverb-drenched piano strike in a perfect Supremes rip and probably the catchiest melody you’ll hear relegated to verse status this year.

The album’s immaculate use of percussion begins there, too. Tambourine — more massive in the mix than the drums, than the piano, than the horns used so slightly to accentuate — seems to pin the swirl of Daniel’s voice to the wall. There are about three or four uses of tambourine on the song that I can count, and each is used tastefully and without a hint of the supposed novelty with which the instrument is so often displayed. Hand claps enter for about two-thirds of a bar because, in that bar, like the crackling noise at the end of “I Turn My Camera On,” there can’t possibly be anything else that would fit in that tiny section better and Daniels knows it. Tambourine once again elevates “Don’t You Evah” at just the right moment, when Daniel’s many refrains all appear at once and begin to weave with one another, dodging the bass’ undercurrent of sway and cool. Similarly, that one shaker in “Finer Feelings” propels an already unstoppable song to a place amateur songwriters rarely reach.

The album of the year finishes the way it started: with a renewed commitment to where Spoon has already been. “Black Like Me” could be on any one of Spoon’s last three or four albums, just like “Don’t Make Me a Target” implies that Spoon haven’t created anything especially great here. In its short three and a half minutes “Black Like Me” works predictably, comfortingly towards its backbeat and background chant before suddenly ending. It feels like there should be more, but the album is endlessly playable. It’s as much a statement of stubborn confidence as it is a move that some might mistake for treading water; Spoon are working towards the irrefutable and complete, that graceful equation: Britt Daniel’s Theory of Everything. They’ve drawn two lines, and with each album they draw two more within the confines of the first. Many a band’s debut album is a big bang that then remains diluted at the core as the group dissipates in its grasping for new ideas; Spoon, however, have been hacking away at themselves, coming ever closer to their most pure and central sensibilities.