“Yeah,” Spoon is “Alright”: Gimme Fiction from a Songwriter’s Point of View

So, I asked local songwriter and friend, John Radcliff, to contribute a piece on his favorite artist/songwriter and one of their albums, and this is what he wrote…

I was asked to write about my favorite artist/songwriter. To take my favorite album by that artist and examine it from a songwriter’s point of view. Like a lot of people (I think), favorites are always a shifting target. But having said that, I keep coming back to Spoon. They first appeared on my radar about the time Series of Sneaks came out. There was just something about their sound that I gravitated to immediately. So like any good music lover, I dove in head first to listen to everything I could get my hands on. And as the years passed, it was the one band I KNEW exactly when their next recording was coming out. I had my order placed before the release date so I wouldn’t have to go one second longer than necessary before hearing it.

The funny thing to me is that I haven’t liked any of the albums by Spoon on the first listen since I started doing this. I think it’s because none of their albums have matched the raw grittiness of Telephono or Series of Sneaks. (A little background) After Series came out, Spoon was dropped by Electra almost immediately. I guess it signaled to them that they needed to go in another direction. Subsequently, their sound became more Lo-Fi and less guitar driven. Like I said above, I was not a fan of this new direction. Not immediately, anyway. But the more I listened to each new album the more I loved each one.

The best example of this, and my favorite album by Spoon that I want to examine is Gimme Fiction. Because just like you’d expect, given what I said above, I hated this one the most on the first listen. I really was beside myself thinking this was the end of me and Spoon. I couldn’t even listen to one song all the way through. But just like every other one, I eventually got over not hearing a wall of guitars and I found that I really liked these songs. And the more I came to really appreciate Britt Daniel as a songwriter.

What I like about Britt Daniel is that he crafts songs that are simple in origin but so complex in delivery. What I mean by that is that the chord progressions aren’t anything mind blowing by themselves. But they require a discipline to undersell themselves until it’s time to deliver the hook. As a songwriter, you are told time and time again to get to the hook or a hook by the first minute of a song. That is, if you want the song to be easily accepted. Britt doesn’t introduce the hook until the 2:30 mark of the opening song, “The Beast and Dragon, Adored.” I’m left with this feeling of anticipation through the first 2:30 of the song. Waiting, almost begging for a resolution that ties everything together. When it hits, and then seamlessly slips back into the verse but with an added offset vocal pattern, I just have to throw my hands up and surrender to the uniqueness of my favorite songwriter.

What I like and what I do as a songwriter are two completely different things. I guess my goal has always been to remind you of a lot of artist, but no one artist in particular. But there are things Britt does that have found their way into my songwriting process. He uses the word “alright” in seemingly every song. It’s not that he finds a way to work it into every song, but he uses it as a space filler or segue. The way he uses it, the word doesn’t have any meaning. It’s just a means to get to the next thing. My uninspired, but still very useful word is, “yeah.” I suppose a lot of artist have their “it” word that they use. But it’s something I’m not always conscious of. It just happens.

Lyrically, I write a lot of songs from the perspective of always being on the outside looking in. More because of a personal sense of frustration with communicating with most people, rather than from just being an observer. It’s also an underlying theme of Britt’s songs. Particularly on this album. I’d love to sit down with him and compare where our sense of being on the outside comes from.

A couple of quick examples:

From the “Delicate Place”:

“I got nothing you got something.

I feel out of place.

Looking through your window into that delicate place.”

From “Sister Jack”:

“Always on the outside always looking in”

From “They Never Got You”:

“You, when you were coming up

did you think everyone knew

something unclear to you

and when you were thrown in a crowd

could you believe yourself

cause no one would hear

and just say it again

cause they never got you and you never got them”

Songwriting for me starts with the guitar. Every once in a while the words come first. But most of the time it’s about a chord or a riff that awakens my muse. It’s not so much words that come next as it is a vocal pattern. Britt occasionally plays the keys, but he’s mostly a guitar player. When I watch this video for “I Summon You,” I can almost see him doing that. Just humming along the vocal pattern with that chord progression.

Weight of the world. We all feel that sometimes. Don’t we?

I’m not quite sure what he’s talking about all the time when I listen to “Sister Jack.” But I feel it. I remember writing a song with almost the same chord structure and tempo shortly after this song came out. But mine was about a crazy neighbor and how he would suck the life out of you just by being there. I don’t ever purposely steal anyone’s music, but when it happened I started to realize where these things come from and what it meant to be influenced. It was totally by osmosis. I was always kind of proud of that even though I’m not proud of the song I wrote. It had it’s moments, but I haven’t played it in years. Anyway, this one seemed to stick pretty good.

The more I write on this and watch videos, I really start to hate the guy. Hehehe! Not really, just admire what he does. I’m also very motivated to try to do some songs like these. Just in the sense that I would have one that drug on. But that so much was going, you really don’t care because it keeps your interest. “They Never Go You” is a good example. He just gives himself a long time to sing through the verses. Lots of little quirky things on the album version that you don’t hear here. But, keeping you in anticipation of the chorus and the release of all that energy and the advise that goes against everything he talks about in the verse.

I’ve found myself doing that before and since I started listening to Spoon. Just something to remind myself that there’s another side to that coin. That’s what I think he’s doing here. Talking to himself. In his case, he’s telling how to build up a wall to keep people or a person from hurting him. As he switches to the first person, it’s kind of his way of saying , I’ve been there.

I’m not really sure I’ve convinced you of this album’s greatness as much as I’ve told you how it speaks to me. If you really need convincing, take this song and put it in your car stereo and turn it up to eleven. It helps to be on a straight stretch of country highway when it kicks in. Trust me.

— John Radcliff

Spoon’s Website

Purchase Gimme Fiction

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