Review Summary: Gimme Fiction doesn't shine with the same aura of icy perfection as Kill the Moonlight , but it is perhaps more enjoyable a listen.
Spoon had already undergone a few lifecycles before they released this record, their first since their relative claim to fame (Kill The Moonlight standout The Way We Get By being featured in the OC soundtrack). Their new phase had started with Girls Can Tell, where their punk leanings had (nearly disappeared, ushering in a new sparse and loungy sound that owed less to the Pixies and more to Wire. The album following that, Kill The Moonlight, was an exponential improvement in that post-punk direction, with songs that were perfectly balanced and without the slightest redundant item added to the mix.
Kill the Moonlight is the kind of record that leaves an almost unbearable legacy. It was so perfect that improving it based on the same premises would be nearly impossible. Gimme Fiction is definitely an acknowledgement of that fact: Spoon tried to broaden their influence range and mess with their aesthetic, which is partly an indication that they were comfortable enough with it to do that, and partly that they really had to find new directions. A taking-stock record this isn't.
Gimme Fiction immediately seems designed to be more 'epic' and 'grandiose' than anything they had done before.Spoon usually started their records unassumingly (take the slow burning synth pop of Everything Hits At Once, or the eerie and atmospheric Small Stakes), but here the beginning is a loud bang: The Beast And Dragon, Adored starts with pounding chords taken from the canon of rock, accompanied by shimmering, noisy guitar (a totally new thing for them). And here are some un-Spoon lyrics for you: "When you don't feel it it shows they tear out your soul/
And when you believe they call it rock and roll". All this when Spoon's music had always been about tasteful restraint rather than free expression, or feeling. What gives?
The whole record marks a turn to music that predates Spoon's usual influence pool, leaning towards 60s rock. The songs are less restrained and more alluring to the casual listener, more rife with instrumental parts, and they often favor a more earnest display of human emotion at the expense of Spoon's usual attitude which is more sassy and standoffish.
I Turn My Camera On, many a critic's favorite track from here, brings to mind the Rolling Stones' sexy jams, e.g Miss You. The Infinite Pet sports a prehistorical blues riff. Without its imposing and menacing air, The Beast And Dragon, Adored could be a Beatles song, and so could a handful of more melodic numbers like the lovely ballad I Summon You (their first acoustic ballad ever) or Sister Jack, which underwent an extreme makeover from a piano ditty in its demo phase into a massive and sunny rocker. Two Sides/ Monsieur Valentine is one of the most instantly appealing tracks, and it features strings, an ornament usually avoided by the band but perfectly well placed here.
For all the more accessible songs to be found here, Spoon still maintain their edge and alienating quality that permeated their best songs. My Mathematical Mind, my personal standout, develops in typical all-tension-no-release Spoon fashion: resting on ominous piano chords, it simply refuses to turn into a conventional chorus and instead it seamlessly flows into an exhilarating, noisy guitar flourish. Similarly conceived is The Delicate Place, which on top of that sounds like one of Wire's journeys into psychedelia (oh, there they are again).
The back half of the record is more electronic and sparse, and it features a couple numbers that could have fit well in Kill The Moonlight. Merchants Of Soul bears a striking resemblance to Back To The Life from that record, while Was It You?, with its understated grooviness that makes it stand out oddly from the rest of the record, in that is germane to Stay Don't Go.
Gimme Fiction is a great record. For all the risky paths taken here, I would still be hard-pressed to find a misstep (perhaps the somewhat plain The Infinite Pet, or the aimless They Never Got You). It doesn't shine with the same aura of icy perfection as Kill the Moonlight, but it is perhaps more enjoyable a listen.