Review Summary: Spoon foreshadow their inevitable big-time break with this coarsely melodic album that features memorable songs, great riffs and inimitable vocals on the part of Britt Daniels. An essential for any 90's indie maven.
Spoon are four Texans who make catchy, terse, challenging music for listeners who want to tap their feet but not feel guilty about listening to soft or saccharine rock. I first discovered them in my freshman year at college, and now, two years later, have crowned them as my favorite modern band. A Series of Sneaks was the last album of theirs I purchased, but it is certainly no afterthought; indeed, this record is one of their most essential.
In their previous album, Telephono, Spoon synthesized the influences of Pixies, Pavement, and other late 80's/early 90's indie rockers into a rough-edged, melodic sound. After being signed to Elektra Records, they concocted these 14 songs, which advanced their style, staying true to their influences while forging a unique sound as well. They would continue to tinker with studio effects, new instruments, and sundry other styles in albums to come, but "A Series of Sneaks" was the first sign of the innovation and experimentation that Spoon would bring to the indie world.
The record begins with a harsh but instantly memorable riff before getting louder, leading to a quick ending of "Utilitarian." This song could serve as a microcosm of the album, with its crunchy electric guitars complementing Britt Daniel's gruff, endearing voice and well-enunciated, oblique lyrics. "The Minor Tough," track two, starts right away with a descending bass guitar line which augurs the off-key nature of this idiosyncratic, appealing tune. Even with those two solid tracks, the great songs start in earnest with "The Guestlist/The Execution," which combines harmonizing verses with a rollicking chorus that makes one wish the song lasted more than 2:03.
"Reservations" slows things down a tad, but leads us competently into "30 Gallon Tank," the longest tune on the album by half and a whale of a song to comprehend. Manic yet precise drumming fades in along with jagged guitars and echoing vocals to create a sparse but very effective track. "Car Radio" simplifies the proceedings into one-and-a-half minutes of staccato beats and insistent vocals that stick in one's head for days. Their amazing streak continues with "Metal Detektor," which, in addition to forecasting misspelled songs to come on "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga," is the most melodic tune here, and features an imitable 30 second acoustic guitar outro.
I first heard "Metal School" on Pandora Radio, and it caught me even then with Daniels' coos and rough guitar riffs making the song a must-repeat. The spunky "No You're Not" includes handclaps with its pointed, put-down lyrics, and "Advance Cassette" serves a similar function here as "Vittorio E." and "Black Like Me" would on future albums: an impossibly melodic closer full of pathos.
I omitted a few less memorable songs, but on the whole, "A Series Of Sneaks" coheres like few modern albums do, and is a must-have for any alt-rock-indie fan or appreciator of great music.
Note: The 2002 re-release included two songs indicting their former PR man, Ron Laffitte ("Laffitte, Don't Fail Me Now" and "The Agony Of Laffitte") who abandoned the band after this album's release, but who also inspired two excellent tunes that fit in with the rest of the fantastic album.