I love when you get to the moment of clarity with a great rock album. The moment when, after spending some quality time with it, the album finally speaks to you. It could happen on the second listen, the fifth, or the fiftieth. It may happen in the shower before work on a Monday morning, on your Friday afternoon drive home, or while doing dishes on a random Tuesday night. With the best albums, it rarely happens immediately, and may not happen for months or even years. But, eventually, if you’re lucky, you reach the point where you get it. Maybe it’s a song? Though, it could happen because of something as simple as a guitar tone. It could happen because a lyric suddenly rings true in your personal life. It could happen because of a different state of mind. It could happen because you just never really heard that drum fill, guitar distortion, or background harmony before that specific moment. It could happen in dramatic fashion, or, as is often the case, it could just happen. You hear it differently, and then you fall in love.
I had my moment with the new Spoon album, Transference, in my car the other night as I was driving across town. I had listened to it over a half-dozen times throughout the week and was feeling pretty indifferent. I had really fallen in love with Spoon’s Gimme Fiction after an unforgettable night with a Canadian, some port, and a set of high-quality speakers. I was hooked on that album for at least a year. I immediately went back and discovered their older stuff to mixed opinions, but was probably one of the few that didn’t go ga-ga over Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. Upon my first few listens of Transference, I was at the point where I have often been with Spoon, outside of Gimme Fiction. I didn’t hate it by any means — Spoon is too good to ever hate — but I wasn’t totally feeling it either. In fact, it didn’t make me feel one way or another. Then, the other night, I got it. Now I can’t stop listening to it.
It all started with “Goodnight Laura,” as I randomly selected the eighth track after turning on my car. As a new father, lots of things sound different to me these days, whether they relate to my son or not. But, having just put my seven-month-old to bed, and walking out of my house for the first time in a week, a song that felt like a cheesy throwaway to me earlier that day struck just the right sentimental chord. It’s a simple, piano ballad lullaby that Chris Martin probably wishes he had come up with — standard fare, about forgetting your troubles and allowing yourself to happily drift off to sleep. It could be directed at a lover, or a daughter, and on what was probably the ninth time I had heard it, it seemed directed right at my sleeping son. I listened to it as I drove down my street in the winter fog, immediately jumped back to the beginning, and then listened to it again as I licked a few tears from my beard. It was the moment, and it was just the beginning.
Once you find that first moment with an album, often, you start to discover many more. I love when Britt Daniel sings “I know your mechanism,” in “Out Go the Lights,” making it sound like an afterthought as well as the most important line of the song, simultaneously. It’s four words I wish I’d thought of, and it’s hands down my favorite lyric on the album, from a song that I suddenly find myself listening to over and over again. It’s quintessential Spoon. My personal highlight, though, is one of those “blink and you might miss it” moments from the driving “Got Nuffin.” As Daniel goes into the first pass of the chorus, he lets out a small, voice-cracking scream while singing “Got nothin’ to lose.” It would have been easy for Spoon to go back and recut that vocal, but sometimes the substance is more important than the style. I would like this album less without that split second moment of vulnerability, or I suppose, any of the other precious moments, intended or not, that I have since discovered in my brief time with the album.
Whereas Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga was Spoon at its most polished, Transference finds less-is-more beauty in the tarnished depths of the back of the drawer. Coming from a band known for piling on the layers of sound in the studio, the songs on Transference are noticeably less constructed and shiny. In fact, the band often peels away layer after layer throughout the songs, until they become pared down to their delicious core; a solitary drum beat, an acoustic guitar, a simple bass line, piano chords, or even a moment of silence. The syrupy production, melodies, and hooks of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga have been traded for mild experimentation, hypnotic rhythms, and raw emotion. It was an interesting gamble to release an album this naked as a follow-up to the slick, Technicolor dreamcoat of their last one, but it’s turned out to be a very fortuitous one.
“Goodnight Laura” happened to be my starting point, but it’s just one of three songs in a row, along with “Out Go the Lights” and “Got Nuffin,” all tucked away toward the end of the album, that gave me my moment of clarity with Transference. They are arguably three of the best songs in Spoon’s entire prolific catalog. Together, they represent who Spoon is at this moment in time, and how unbelievably good they can be when everything clicks. It eventually clicked with me, too. I had my moment with Transference; here’s hoping you can find yours as well.