Review: Spoon still have the spark on 10th album ‘Lucifer on the Sofa’
From the opening seconds of Lucifer on the Sofa, it's apparent that this is a different Spoon album than we've had in a while. We hear studio chatter, the sounds of the band dicking around -- cymbals lightly crashing, pianos being plonked -- and then the drums kick in with a mean, dirty, bluesy riff following right behind. It's a cover of Smog's "Held," reinvented as a swaggering rock song. It's also the sound of five guys locked in, playing live together and a killer start to the latest entry in one of the most consistently great discographies of the last 25 years.
Spoon's last album, 2017's Hot Thoughts, found Spoon back on Matador Records for the first time since their 1996 debut, Telephono, and also found them playing around with synthesizers, drum loops and other modern pop recording techniques. It's a terrific record that still has that Spoon swagger amid all the technology, but the band discovered after touring it that they liked the live versions of the songs better than the album's. They decided that for the next record, they would rehearse and figure the songs out live first, not piece them together in the studio, so that, as Britt told Pitchfork, "we’re not always making the better version after it’s been recorded.”
Britt left Los Angeles and moved back to Austin in 2019 -- the first time he'd lived there in a decade or so -- hoping to recapture some of the magic of Spoon's early days when songs were road-tested long before they entered the studio. Alex Fleishel, who's been with Spoon since 2013 and is Britt's main songwriting foil these days, also relocated from L.A. to Austin for the record and the band got to work at Jim Eno's Public Hi-Fi studio. They got Mark Rankin, who's worked with everyone from Queens of the Stone Age to Adele, to produce and engineer, with help from Flaming Lips collaborator Dave Fridmann and Justin Raisen on a few songs. They tried to keep it as live and use as few instruments as possible.
The album was nearly done when the pandemic hit. While recording was on hold, Daniel found himself with nothing to do in a town that famously bustles with live music on every block but was now eerily silent. He wrote a whole new batch of songs which would end replacing many of the songs they'd already recorded. They went back in the studio in October 2020 with a new sense of energy.
You really can feel that spirit on Lucifer on the Sofa. This is not a return to the Spoon of Girls Can Tell or Kill the Moonlight, records that were so spare you could pick out every instrument on every song. Spoon sound BIG here -- it's a modern studio album -- but these 10 songs crackle with electricity. "The Hardest Cut," a snarling number with clear roots in ZZ Top, is pure Texas boogie but also pure Spoon. You can hear the curl on Daniel's lip in his delivery. "The Devil & Mr Jones" is another track that plays with traditional rock tropes -- Stonesy riff, Santana-y leads, deals with Satan -- but does so with such style and palpable energy (and nicely subtle sax), that they make it their own.
The whole record plays like this, working in familiar forms but making them fresh. Even "Wild," a track co-written by Jack Antonoff that is as close to (Joshua Tree era) U2 as Spoon will ever come, succeeds through the band's performance. It's a song that definitely would've been a hit 20 years ago. About half of Lucifer on the Sofa is single-worthy. You can just see crowds swaying to "My Babe," and they even get mileage out of the old "listen to the radio" trope on "Radio" that will surely sound great blasting out of a car stereo with the top down.
Lucifer on the Sofa offers a smooth comedown with a trio of softer songs that close the album: "Astral Jacket," that plays like a gentler cousin to They Want My Soul's "Do You," the swaying "Satellite," and the album's bittersweet title track. The latter is the album's most sublime moment, a song about breaking bad habits and keeping the creative fire alive, set against an Austin backdrop full of the city's faces and places. It's reassuring that nearly 30 years into their existence, Spoon continue to find that spark.
Get Lucifer on the Sofa on vinyl in the BV shop.