After spending the 2000s churning out consistently good albums, Spoon were due for a break. 2010's Transference reflected their weariness in its beautifully frayed collage of demo and studio recordings, so the four-year gap that followed wasn't surprising. During that time, Jim Eno produced albums by !!! and the Heartless Bastards; Eric Harvey released the solo album Lake Disappointment, and Britt Daniel formed Divine Fits with Dan Boeckner. That project couldn't help but rub off on Spoon's next album, especially since Daniel wrote much of They Want My Soul shortly after touring with Divine Fits and brought keyboardist Alex Fischel into the fold. Spoon's time off paid off; if they were weary before, here they're reinvigorated but self-aware. On several of these ten songs, Daniel laments that "they" want a piece of him, and the album revolves around obligations -- spiritual, romantic, financial -- that make for a witty focus for the band's first major-label album in over 15 years. On "The Rent I Pay," one of their best fusions of the Rolling Stones and Wire, Daniel pays his dues and defies them ("I ain't your dancer") while Eno's mighty snare hits signal that Spoon is back. On the album's title track, he includes Kill the Moonlight inspiration Jonathon Fisk among the laundry list of folks who want his vital force, but the irresistible harmonies and guitars give the song's paranoia an almost romantic tinge. Later, the standout "Let Me Be Mine" teeters between freedom and commitment with exuberant outbursts and chilly breakdowns reminiscent of Transference. But where that album's messy vulnerability was a big part of its appeal, They Want My Soul's sound is much tighter, thanks to two established sound-shapers: Dave Fridmann, whose intricate work embellished the music of the Shins and Sleater-Kinney, and Joe Chiccarelli, who produced the more mainstream likes of Jason Mraz and Counting Crows. However, the results are unquestionably Spoon. The hooky, strummy "Do You" is their version of a radio-friendly hit, while "Outlier" dresses its disses (“I remember when you walked out of Garden State/You had taste" takes aim at the song's subject and Zach Braff's movie) in busy percussion and swirling organs that borrow from late-'80s baggy. Songs like this, the sparkling "Rainy Taxi," and the swooning "New York Kiss" -- which could be a Divine Fits song -- showcase the depth Fischel's keyboards add to the band. A few indie quirks remain: many of They Want My Soul's most immediate tracks are at the bottom, and some of these songs take time to reveal themselves. "Knock Knock Knock"'s bristling guitars tip Daniel's hand more than his elliptical lyrics, while the raw cover of "I Just Don't Understand" feels like as much of a disguise as the more cryptic moments. Still, They Want My Soul is more of a welcome return than a comeback, and too complex to be considered back-to-basics -- especially when they reinvent the basics on each album.
They Want My Soul Review
by Heather Phares