Now that I’m on the cusp of crossing Spoon off my “Bands To See Before I Die” list, I thought it would be fun to rank their albums (no EPs or extras, of which there are many) based on my subjective thoughts on the quality of each and the album’s impact on my listening habits. And I should note I don’t dislike any of these albums, but there are certainly some that are stronger than others, and some remain in my heavy listening rotation long after their release for damn good reasons. Okay, let’s get to it!
9. Transference (2010)
When this dropped after Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, I’ll bet a lot of people had the same thought I did: “Oh, okay, Spoon is getting really weird again.” And not that Spoon was ever NOT weird, but this album intentionally stepped away from the more consistent art-pop playland of Kill the Moonlight and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga to wade into strange synthy musical peregrinations. It’s their Jackson Pollock album. Their “Joaquin Phoenix goes crazy for a while” album. Aside from a few rock-oriented tunes, the other tracks feel like odd asides from some other album, almost ungainly, as if Spoon is flaunting the fact that they threw out the playbook and just went with their gut, with mixed results, but who cares? It’s the album that shows us Spoon is more about exploring their artistic whims than anything else, and even if this one never really impressed me from start to finish, that’s a stance I can respect.
Favorite tracks: “The Mystery Zone,” “Got Nuffin,” “Out Go The Lights,” “Written In Reverse”
8. Telephono (1996)
Early Spoon (like early Replacements, in a way) was a band far more interested in punk hooks than synth tracks, although the songs still played out in Spoon's typical arty, off-beat way. This iteration of Spoon had a bouncy jagged edge to it, with songs that explored a surreal landscape in quick bursts, alternating screamers and howlers with Britt Daniels’ trademark causal prowling vocals. The first five tracks are particularly driven and still sound as fresh today as they did in the mid-90s. In fact, when I listen to this album and A Series of Sneaks, I often wonder how these guys were so overlooked in the pile of mundane corporate garbage that dominated 90s music. It’s an energetic and loud debut and deserves to be higher on this list…except for the fact Spoon had so many other good albums.
Favorite tracks: “Nefarious,” “All the Negatives Have Been Destroyed,” “Don’t Buy the Realistic”
7. A Series of Sneaks (1998)
I could almost write “See: Telephono” here, except this album as a whole feels slightly more consistent. The band keeps a quick pace while covering more experimental ground within that 1-3 minute art-punk sound. Some songs feel like they’re half a radio hit before spinning off into weird whistles or static tracks, with one favorite, “No You’re Not,” becoming almost Lynchian with its reverse speaking as the song breaks down to a shambling halt. And yet it’s such a great tune. That’s what makes Spoon so fun. Not only are they giving you jaunty upbeat tracks, but they’re willing to get weird with it in a way that doesn’t send you running for the hills. This album did that, taking them another half-step closer toward peak art-rock Spoon.
Favorite tracks: “No You’re Not,” “Metal Detektor,” “The Guestlist/The Execution,” “Quincy Punk Episiode”
6. Hot Thoughts (2017)
Spoon takes their greatest artistic risks to date with this album, and it pays off, mostly. If it wasn't for my nostalgia for the next couple albums on the list, it would rank far higher. As strange and experimental as this album is (and it certainly is), it also contains some of their strongest and most accessible, dance-able songs in “Hot Thoughts” and “Can I Sit Next to You.” And there are some strong Beatles-esque tracks and structures that show up in a couple songs. In a way, this one is a bit like their own Sgt. Pepper, a strange but wondrous realm of pop art. It can feel up and down in spots, peaking with the aforementioned tracks, while songs like "Pink Up" had to grow on me. But there's just so much happening on the album to not find something to like: moody tracks like “I Aint the One” are balanced against more bouncy, colorful songs like “Tear It Down.” It’s an adventurous, fun album that must be owned, and over time it will likely climb this list, maybe even into the top 3-4 albums, but I love Girls Can Tell too much to rank this higher.
Favorite tracks: “Hot Thoughts,” “Can I Sit Next to You,” “I Ain’t the One,” “Tear It Down”
5. Girls Can Tell (2001)
Here’s where things flip. Where Hot Thoughts has incredible standout tracks and all manner of influences burning into a white flame of synth-layered bombast, Girls Can Tell is a subdued, consistent offering that creeps up on you with its subtle quality. There are no “hits” or tracks that stand above and beyond the others, but they all offer something to create a striking mood and picture. “Take a Walk” might be the closest thing to a radio single (though who the hell cares about radio nowadays anyway) while the others mold and shape around it like a fog, showing a band moving out of their punk phase and decidedly into their more serious auteur phase, constructing albums of intent and atmosphere. These aren’t just kids with guitars anymore. These are artists finding their stride.
Favorite tracks: “Chicago at Night,” “Take a Walk,” “Anything You Want,” “The Fitted Shirt”
4. They Want My Soul (2014)
Despite the fact that I hardly listened to this one when it dropped, They Want My Soul has grown in my estimations to the point where I feel it’s easily one of their most consistent, excellent, and accessible albums. There are fewer risks than Hot Thoughts, but there are also fewer skipable tracks. The songs have a rich uniformity to them that, like Girls Can Tell, paints a subtle atmospheric picture one stroke at a time. I call this one their “New York” album because I lived there at the time of the release and so many tracks, such as “New York Kiss,” “Rainy Taxi,” and “Rent I Pay,” have lyrical elements that remind me so strongly of living there. Nothing veers too wildly out of its lane on this album, and it remains a fun, innovative collection of songs that only gets better with time.
Favorite tracks: “Rent I Pay,” “Inside Out,” “They Want My Soul,” “Do You”
3. Kill the Moonlight (2002)
This is where we hit Spoon’s peak, where they released three back-to-back masterful albums that perfectly meld pop, art, weirdness, and rock. This was my first album of theirs, given to me at the same time by two friends, and I became obsessed. There’s so little fat to trim here. Each song is its own test tube of pop experimentation that comes across just right, be it the fun piano-driven swagger of “The Way We Get By” or the odd, tick-tock rhythm of the eerily romantic “Paper Tiger,” these songs fit like puzzle pieces into an exceptional assemblage of songs. A couple tracks taper off a bit toward the end, but all in all, this is a must-own album.
Favorite tracks: “Something to Look Forward To,” “The Way We Get By,” “Paper Tiger,” Small Stakes”
2. Gimme Fiction (2005)
Where Kill the Moonlight was a collection of excellent 2-and-a-half minute art-pop songs, Gimme Fiction begins to pull and push those structures into wilder animals and more complex and off-beat creations. Yet they retain the polished excellence and consistency of the songs found on Moonlight. Again, a couple tracks toward the end get a bit spotty and are easily forgotten, but the strength of the album spans more than just the first few tracks. There’s a romanticism and classic feeling to tracks like “I Summon You” and “The Delicate Place,” and the intricate piecing together of motion, sound, and complex sensibility in tracks like “The Beast and Dragon, Adored” and “The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine” elevate the album and the band above their contemporaries. And “I Turn My Camera On” is just flat-out their best song ever. Own this.
Favorite tracks: “The Beast and Dragon, Adored,” “The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine,” “I Turn My Camera On,” “I Summon You”
1. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (2007)
To make a final Beatles reference, this album is Spoon’s Abbey Road. Individually, the songs are a perfect combination of accessibility, exploration, and quirky hooks. But they seamlessly flow from one to the next with such intention that even lesser tracks like “My Little Japanese Cigarette Case” take on greater heft. Oddly enough, their single from this album, “The Underdog,” is my least favorite track. It’s fine and all, but there are so many layered, odd little gems throughout that the track listing becomes a series of left-right-left hooks that leave me floored every time I let this beast roam wild through my headphones. The extra EP “Get Nice!” that came out with the album is a totally bizarre set of loose pieces that again strengthens the clear influence The Beatles had on the band, creating a flowing collective of glorious pop-art weird babies. This is peak Spoon: strange, fun, upbeat, and alive with all the sound and vision a band could possibly muster.
Favorite tracks: “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb,” “Don’t You Evah,” “Rhthm & Soul,” Finer Feelings,” “Eddie’s Ragga”