Soul singers are a misunderstood lot. Britt Daniel is white, Texan and more fluent in rock's broad punctuation than in the trills and grace notes of professional R&B-but Christ, can he sing. Followers of Spoon, Daniel's Austin-based band, have been lending out their copies of the album Girls Can Tell since 2000, hoping that friends will recognize it as one of the best white soul albums ever made, due in large part to Daniel's weirdly understated voice. His is a classical rock tenor-as rock 'n' rolly as Paul Westerberg or John Lydon, but shaped by an unerring instinct for the location of the soul. Like Joe Jackson or Elvis Costello, Daniel gets more accolades for his songwriting-naked sympathy meets swift, desperate wit, and the fight's a draw-than for the fact that he turns phrases like a pro. Daniel makes this sort of soul look easy.
No great surprise, then, that Spoon's newest release, Gimme Fiction, is a rock album patterned on the slithering, lovesick, spread-eagled ambition of nineteen-seventies Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. This is an album of grace notes: violin breaks and handclaps, an oddly placed tambourine, a pimp's bass line that one-ups Chic and Roxy Music in less than four notes. No two tracks sound alike, save for Daniel's voice. Time and again Spoon starts pounding away and Daniel gives his instrument back to the band, often treating it like a piece of percussion, forming half the snap beat of "I Summon You" or the falsetto counterpoint of the band's current sort-of hit, "I Turn My Camera On." Gimme Fiction is blessedly the work of a band, a real band, sailing deep into its own sound and testing its limits, which, to be honest, seem to be vanishing with the seasons.
Spoon's 2002 release, Kill The Moonlight, was as close as my suspicious generation gets to a qualified rock masterpiece: eleven songs, eleven fast punches to the gut, clocking in under forty minutes. Gimme Fiction is looser and more demanding (I have yet to find someone who didn't get addicted to Kill The Moonlight upon first impression), but with the new record Spoon has managed to make one of those wonderfully odd, self-indulgent rock records that, through sheer moxie, has angled itself as the masterwork of America's best band. Hear the whole catalogue and words may fail you. I remember my life before Spoon, but it did seem to lack oomph, a certain nn-hnn. Both of which form, I believe, the universal sign for We Got Soul.