I am not easily starstruck. It takes someone of great magnitude to really ruffle my feathers in a public setting. That being said, I forgot how to form words upon bumping into Spoon frontman Britt Daniel at a Charly Bliss show. “Hey, no worries, where ya from?” he reassured me, as my jaw hung slack-wide open. He got the ball rolling on a brief exchange where I eventually mustered the courage to spill about how he was my rock idol, and how formative Spoon’s catalog has been for my formation of self. That slick reassuredness, that effortless bravado – nowhere is it more self-evident than on the Austin band’s 10th studio release, Lucifer on the Sofa. The very image the title evokes hints at an insidiousness that we have confronted for so long that it has become casual in nature. Throughout the 10 song tracklist, Britt Daniel (lead vocals/ guitar), Jim Eno (drums), Alex Fischel (keyboards, guitar), Gerardo Larios (keyboards/guitar), and Ben Trokan (bass) run through a gamut of influences that display the band’s signature ability to constantly reinvent itself. As a band, Spoon is no stranger to the idea of leaning into varied corners of the sonic landscape – from the grungy days of Telephono, to the soft minimalism of Kill the Moonlight, to the hi-fidelity grandstanding of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga – Britt & co. always manage to thread the needle in a way that always sounds distinctly Spoon, no matter the cadence.
The record begins with a Spoon-ified cover of “Held,” a 1999 gem by Chicago band Smog (Bill Callahan’s old outfit). It is a prismatic reinterpretation as told through blistering orchestration. This version quickly crafts its own identity without becoming unrecognizable from the source material. By the three-minute mark, the listener is greeted with wind tunnel whiplash as Daniel, Fischel, and Larios’ guitars cross streams to cataclysmic effect. On lead single, “The Hardest Cut,” Spoon takes a page out of the book of ZZ Top with a real bar thumper of a tune. Achingly self-aware in its naming convention, this is Spoon’s most rough-around-the-edges song in ages. The scuzzy riffs and head-bopping percussion are sure to set any juke joint ablaze. “I took off in the dead of night/ But before I did/ I got my affairs in order, got my boots on,” Britt delivers on the second verse. The assertion doubles as a mission statement for the album, as though the band has never shied away from their Austin tenure, they’ve never quite leaned into such a Texan sound. Britt tugs at one of the recurring tensions of the record with the line: “They say you need a little direction/But following the leader/Gonna turn you off the religion.”
This warning against following false prophets that detract from their own ideology spills over into the subsequent track – and my very favorite off the album – “The Devil & Mr. Jones.” Pulling from the Bob Dylan mythos of ‘Ballad of a Thin Man,’ Mr. Jones reprises his role here, having emerged from the chaos of his original context, and hexed by Lucifer himself. However, on this track, Mr. J has become a manipulative snake oil salesman, pulling the wool over the eyes of the unquestioning; a grim portent of the rampant advertising campaigns that dominate our capitalistic hellscape. The song feels very much like a Lucifer era brutalist counterpart to Gimme Fiction‘s “The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine.” The world-weariness upon which the band reflects is best encapsulated with the lyric: “This world is fragile/We’re aware quite acutely.” In the time of a pandemic, we are reminded of this truth on a daily basis. All the while, Jones is making a quick buck off all of the mayhem (“He’ll tell your mother/ That she can sing again/ And he will sell her / His only melody /And yesterday /He made a blind man see, yeah / And then tomorrow / He’ll take back everything.”) It only takes ten seconds to establish the grooviest rhythm section off the whole LP, and near the three-minute mark, an absolute jam session arrives in full force. Do not buy into Mr. J’s wicked juju, but feel more than welcome to cut a rug as the delicate horns soar.
Follow-up “Wild” is the definitive single that establishes itself as the most quintessential new addition to Spoon canon; it is the thematic centerpiece of the record that carries with it the heart of every central internal conflict: Man vs Modernity, Man vs Nature, Modernity vs Nature, Man vs Society, Man vs Self, Man vs Other. The music video boasts a steel-toed, ten-gallon-hat-donning Britt exuding all the silent braggadocio we’ve come to know from him. The song, in similar fashion, evokes the image of a cowboy in a cubicle, jaded with the stagnant air of a 9-to-5 life (“I got on fine with modern living/ But must I be such a citizen?”). There is a sense of yearning on the horizon. A sense of discomfort for routine. A need to reconnect with the world, to see green, to touch soil, to bask in daylight. On the chorus, he bursts full forward: “And the world still so wild, called to me/ I was lost, been kept on my knees.” The desperation to cut and run from our modern entrapments is a feeling that resonates all too loudly in 2022, and its existential concerns lay a framework that further songs continue to build upon.
“My Babe” pursues authenticity with reckless abandon. The perfect blend of sleeve-hearted and sentimental without becoming oversaturated in saccharine. “What do you get when you add it up?” Britt muses as the tune settles into a piano-driven rhythm that syncs up beautifully with the backing instrumentation. His narrator savors the small moments of intimacy like watching late night TV while sipping on cheap wine. “Feels Alright” starts with grit-teeth fret passages that dance along with a skittering bassline, gliding atop Eno’s airtight percussion. “A photograph with no correction/ No need for redirection” is at once a literal snapshot of self-confidence and a commentary on the relationship social media imparts on how we depict ourselves in our digital lives (emphasis on the keyword ‘redirection,’ as it hints at the likelihood that we curate appearances, little slices of our lives that are made to look more appealing than they actually are).
A similar confidence radiates from the lyrical progression found in “On the Radio,” which purports a tepid professing: “Maybe I was born to it/ I think I was born to it.” Soon the sentiment transforms into “’cause I was born to it/ Yeah, I know I was born to it,” which sounds every bit like Britt stepping into his own self-actualization as a presence within the music scene. There’s a level of warm familiarity to these two tracks in that they easily could slide themselves into any slot on the Transference or Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga tracklist, while simultaneously feeling like they belong on this current outing for maximum effect. Britt is absolutely right – it ain’t tragic, it’s like magic. Sleeper-hit “Astral Jacket” is perhaps the most soulful, serene deep cut that long-time fans will be begging to have added to the live setlist. If Satan is content loafing around on the couch, God is content to waltz into the room, or take the form of a heavenly whisper. The interplay between narrator and love interest Sheila is a tender affair that finds them dancing barefoot in the blink of an eye on the edge of the cosmos. And in another blink, the sobering light of morning. The opening chords of “Satellite” – intentionally or otherwise – hearken back to Telephono‘s “Towner,” a testament to how well the band is able to bridge the past and present in a way that retools conventions by paying homage whilst taking them in a wholly different direction. This is present in how the track’s title might call to mind a famous line from “Inside Out” (“There’s intense gravity/ I’m just your satellite”). Layered atop the basis of linking multiple eras of Spoon history, a veritable whirlwind of guitar sweeps over the plains with such magnitude as to blow the audience away entirely by the two-minute mark. A wall of sound ushers us into the eponymous “Lucifer on the Sofa,” a horn-soaked portrait of regret as the devil casually taunts your past misdeeds. A night of reminiscing and not being able to get lost love out of your head follow you all along West Avenue. An apartment tattered with memorabilia: old pictures, a box of cigarettes, old records, old cassettes. And yet Spoon manages to still sound brand new while holding onto remnants of the past – perhaps the finest distillation of Lucifer‘s merits.
The net sum of this record is a carefully-curated fastidiousness achieved primarily by the Daniel-Eno brain trust that has now spanned nearly three decades. Album 10 feels precisely like the culmination of a band whose prime directive is to never stagnate, always evolve. And over the course of 10 tracks, Spoon sets a high bar for the other albums of 2022 to try to surpass. A bonafide front-to-back knockout.