This feature originally ran in 2014. We’re reposting in anticipation of Spoon’s new album, Hot Thoughts.
Top Songs is a feature in which we definitively handpick the very best songs in an artist or band’s catalog. Sounds simple, right? Oh, if only.
The first thing any Spoon fan recognizes about the band is its remarkable and almost polite sense of consistency. That’s what makes even the relatively short wait between Hot Thoughts and the Austin, Texas, band’s excellent last album, They Want My Soul, sting a bit. Sure, it’s hard to wait on new albums, but it’s harder still to wait on the closest thing indie rock has to a sure thing. That’s also what made it so hard to whittle down the group’s back catalog to 10 essential tracks. Trust us: We spent all weekend bickering over where we got it right and wrong nearly three years ago. The result is a list that saw some personal favorites fall away and some other songs climb aboard. And if our hot take on Hot Thoughts has any staying power, we’ll need to be updating this list all over again in the near future. In brief: This is a band that knows how to write a sharply crafted pop song. This list is the proof. Rock on.
10. “Do You”
They Want My Soul (2014)
There are few vocal hooks in the Spoon catalog as sticky-sweet as Britt Daniel’s repetitions of this song’s title, the smoky edges of his voice softened by falsetto backing. But then his “Do you?” isn’t wondering whether you want to grab some frozen yogurt; though still love-centric, this song’s sighs are far more existential and concerned than you might suspect. In fact, Daniel goes so far as to reference Danish existentialist philosopher Søren Aabye Kierkegaard, who wrote “Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing”; here, Spoon ask whether you even want one thing or if you want sainthood. Later, Daniel’s electric coo about how love comes “black and blue” shows the root of his concerns. There’s pain here, but beauty too — just like life’s struggle for love. –Lior Phillips
09. “Written in Reverse”
Britt Daniel has this tendency to treat words the same way kids treat stones. He kicks ’em, he throws ’em, and he often skips ’em. “Written in Reverse” is a brilliant example of this, a four-minute exercise in deconstructed pop that finds the Austin rockers proving that a pile of scrap metal can warrant a shiny sports car. In this case, said scrap metal is a discombobulated rhythm section that sounds like it belongs somewhere in the background of a Sanford and Son episode — all jangly, chaotic, and wired. For over four minutes, Daniel spits out every word as if he’s stumbling out of a saloon with a gallon of moonshine swishing around in his head. None of it sounds like it should work together, but it does, because the band, even at their most anarchic, can’t shake off the fact that they’re a bona fide hook factory. That’s one light bulb that never goes out. –Michael Roffman
08. “Anything You Want”
Girls Can Tell (2001)
There would be plenty of times to complicate things later. But in 2001, on their first great album, Britt Daniel and his band were almost satisfied in crafting just a couple minutes of pop perfection. “Anything You Want” is still classic Spoon in that you can hear where everything is coming from. Daniel’s simple guitar riff rises and falls with ease. The keyboard line drives the song with steady forward locomotion. And the vocals, sung by Daniel with calm clarity and purpose, are as focused as anything in Spoon’s oeuvre. That is, until the song unravels in its final moments, going from, in the words of Daniel, “big picture” to “a very specific moment.” The way Daniel shoves too many words in the closing bit puts a strange emphasis on the moment, as if the detail about the song’s subject, Eleanor Friedberger, was too important to be compromised. It’s beautiful in how it’s allowed to sound flawed, betraying what would become a Spoon trademark, choosing honest-sounding moments in favor of radio-ready polish. –Philip Cosores
07. “Metal School”
A Series of Sneaks (1998)
Well before Spoon blossomed into a household name, 1998’s A Series of Sneaks pared the band down to its barest essentials: terse and inventive guitar-driven pop songs delivered in bite-sized capsules. “Metal School”, along with classics “The Minor Tough” and “Reservations”, smartly sums up this era of Spoondom: It’s frenetic and catchy and the slightest bit subversive, and you don’t have a clue what Britt Daniel is singing about (“Would you spin it back to me on the lazy sue?”), but the song is over before that’s too much of a concern. –Zach Schonfeld
06. “Sister Jack”
Gimme Fiction (2005)
Most bands would be satisfied with the golden power-pop melody and the Byrds-y performance, though there’s some lingering subversive element in “Sister Jack” that makes it stick, and it’s not the gender-bending title. It’s at the end, when the chords ring out the same as throughout the song, but the tempo suddenly starts skipping a beat or lingering for another measure, playing with the logic and structure of a pop song that’s so good to begin with, but even better with Spoon’s tinkering logic behind the boards. –Zach Schonfeld
05. “I Turn My Camera On”
Gimme Fiction (2005)
“I Turn My Camera On” merges an impossibly precise and classically Spoon-ish arrangement with, well, falsetto-laced funk, a vocal turn we’d not yet seen from Mr. Daniel. As ever, the beauty is in the details: the percussive taps and shakes, those subtle xylophone twinkles, the grunts and shouts in the background. The result is Gimme Fiction’s finest achievement — and the Spoon top 40 hit that never was. At least Bones, The Simpsons, Stranger Than Fiction, and Friday Night Lights all caught the feeling. –Zach Schonfeld
04. “Everything Hits at Once”
Girls Can Tell (2001)
Melancholy Spoon is delightful. While I know this may sound slightly off-kilter, you really feel the full weight and brevity of Britt Daniel’s intent as an artist when he slices open his heart (gently no less) and lets all his despair dangle out like an unraveled ball of yarn, fraying and unfurling from every impact. The romantic angst when he sings, “Don’t say a word, the last one’s still stinging,” combined with the gut-aching “I go to sleep thinking that you’re next to me” is his battle cry declaring that everything hits at once — and damn well it hurts. It’s just one of many instances on this record that rewards the sort of respect usually reserved for longstanding progressive rock groups. The settling of drumbeats murmur distant click-tracks, and the most endearing quality of this track is its intimacy. –Lior Phillips