Review Summary: Spoon's debut LP has its moments but lacks the attention to detail and, thus, falls short of being something special.
Spoon has always been a band that takes a different approach with every album. Some work better than others, but there is no doubt that following Spoon through their career has been an interesting expedition. On their first and rarely mentioned album, Telephono, Spoon channels their most raw energy through rugged guitar-driven songs. The band's influences are evident from the beginning, most notably the Pixies. Most of the tracks are rough around the edges, enhancing the post-punk feel of the album. However, the album falls short of delivering an engaging listen due to the brevity of the tracks and the lack of instrumental variety.
Nevertheless, Britt Daniel's vocals are superb, conveying the same vitality as he would in the future. The album has its fair share of good rock tunes that separate themselves from the album's somewhat humdrum composition. An issue with these songs is that they all rely on simple guitar-driven melodies. This would not be a problem if more of these tracks had a chance to develop. Instead a majority of the songs are well under three minutes, so it feels like skimming the surface of a series of similarly structured songs. There are plenty of good ideas on Telephono, but Spoon doesn't capitalize on them, leaving most of the tracks feeling underworked and even neglected.
Telephono commences with "Don't Buy the Realistic", coincidentally the longest track running just under four minutes. In contrast to most of the songs, the track has a gripping buildup that leads to an explosion of Daniel's vocals and forceful electric guitar. The long ambient fade-in of the track is both interesting and suspenseful. "Not Turning Off" is another zestful tune that finds the band utilizing Daniel's voice to intensify the song as a whole. The repetition of "Oh honey. Oh please. It's just a machine." boosts the impetus of the song. "Cvantez" takes an interesting turn with an unusual tempo and a fairly solid groove. The song definitely begins to display and signify the future direction of Spoon's style.
"Claws Tracking" is a fierce tune with muddy production that gives it a jagged quality. "Dismember" is the album's pinnacle and centerpiece. This song reflects the Pixies style with an abnormal melody and rhythm, backup female vocals a la Kim Deal, crunchy guitars, and singing that escalates into aggressive shouting. Despite being one of the LP's shortest tracks, "Dismember" is the most dense and satisfying. Daniel's lyrics stumble over one another during the buildup to the chorus, displaying the track's spontaneous and powerful character. "Idiot Driver" is a quick and solid tune that doesn't push any more boundaries but makes for a fun listen nonetheless.
Once again, "Towner" recalls a familiar style with vocals that feel rushed amidst the precarious rhythm. After a grouping of relatively monotonous tracks, "Plastic Mylar" closes the LP with an enjoyable guitar riff that lies under Daniel's heavy vocals. It is probably the brightest song on Telephono, striving to lift the album from the mundane tone of the majority of the LP.
Telephono's main flaw is that it seems to lack the attention to detail present on most Spoon albums. Some very promising tracks are unfortunately lost in the mix. Nevertheless, Telephono is not a bad album; it simply lacks the qualities of a great album. Every track takes a similar approach with little diversity to be found. There are no twists and turns; what you see is what you get. However, Telephono's standout tracks should not be ignored because they really prevent the album from drifting off into something incredibly boring. Telephono is far from Spoon's best effort, but it's hard not to at least appreciate the band's transformation.
Don't Buy the Realistic