Spoon is a cool band. Everything from their music to their album art cultivates a sense of mystery. Every few years, another classic album seemingly materializes out of thin air, adding up to a contender for the best discography over the past twenty years.
Of course, it only looks effortless. If you listen closely, you’ll start noticing the sheer complexity of Spoon’s simple songs. Gimme Fiction was the first album to really teach me about this musical subtlety, and ten years later it still remains my favorite Spoon album (full disclosure: it was the first Spoon album I bought and it heavily soundtracked my early college years). This week, Merge re-releases Gimme Fiction with a disc of outtakes and an oral history from the band members and producer Mike McCarthy, giving nice context to a period that ended up being a game-changer for the band.
With Gimme Fiction, Spoon found a sweet spot between the studio experimentation of the preceding album, Kill The Moonlight, and their newfound prowess as a live rock and roll band. Songs like “The Beast And Dragon, Adored” and “My Mathematical Mind” hit hard, but there’s still so much space in the recordings. The piano sounds massive on this record, even though a lot of it was sneakily recorded in one of the practice rooms at UT’s Butler School of Music. The other dominant instrument is the guitar. Britt Daniel avoids typical guitar solos in favor of noisy, jagged exclamation points that zoom in and out of the songs. Jim Eno and Mike McCarthy add bizarre production techniques–sound effects, bits of studio banter, flubbed notes–to create a record that frequently feels like a hall of mirrors. It makes for a really unique mixture: songs that are catchy and weird, big and minimal, bright and dark.
Spoon also really started to flex its songwriting muscles on Gimme Fiction, resulting in both the lithe, Prince-like funk of “I Turn My Camera On” and the bouncy, Dylan-esque pop of “I Summon You.” They sound like they could have come from two separate bands, but they were both big hits, considerably raising Spoon’s profile. “I remember being at the beach that summer [in 2005], a couple months after the record had come out, says Merge owner Mac McCaughan, “and there was this big black SUV that was blasting ‘I Summon You’…I felt like this was a turning point.”
It wasn’t a forgone conclusion. Included with the reissue, the extra disc of outtakes shows how the songs evolved from odd riffs and sparse demos into full-fledged rock songs. Jim Eno’s drumming particularly opened up many of the songs, lending a soulful swing even when the rest of the band heads for weirder territory. As Daniel told NPR, both intentional and unintentional decisions played a huge part in making the record, making it sound so alive and mysterious. I’ve been pouring over Gimme Fiction for a decade now, but it still holds me at a distance. That’s why I keep coming back again and again.
Below, listen to Gimme Fiction tracks recorded live in our own Studio 1A and KLRU’s Studio 6A, the historic soundstage of Austin City Limits.