Frontman Britt Daniel has called Spoon‘s 10th album “the sound of classic rock as written by a guy who never did get Eric Clapton.” It’s a tidy explanation and a good sound-bite, but it doesn’t fully cut to the core of Lucifer on the Sofa. Spoon are indie rockers at heart, and there’s no getting around that: Their sound is too angular and off-center to replicate classic-rock’s mass appeal and abiding reliability.
But there’s also no overlooking Lucifer on the Sofa‘s tougher chords and songwriting this time around. This is sometimes heavy music, at least by Spoon’s standards, and if you approach it from the right side you can hear the FM-radio influences echoing in the distance. That’s ZZ Top in the thorny, shuffling “The Hardest Cut” and Elton John in the underlining piano jumps on “Wild.” And the Beatles‘ mid-period move to a more experimental style consistently shows up throughout the record.
On Spoon’s best albums – 2002’s Kill the Moonlight, 2007’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga – the band lets down its defenses, loosens up and freely moves around the playground of sounds that has always balanced out Daniel’s more musically rigid templates. They’re in a similar place here, easing their guard enough to allow some muscular ’70s rock ‘n’ roll into their more complicated new-century take on it.
Lucifer‘s standout songs are the ones that balance the old and new: the slinky, crawling “Held”; the plastic soul that drives “The Devil and Mister Jones”; “Feels Alright,” which combines power-guitar riffing with a chorus straight from late-’70s pop radio. Daniel even pays tribute to a lost era with a straight name-check in “On the Radio.”
Occasionally this doesn’t play out so well. “Astral Jacket” maybe aims for yacht rock but sinks before it ever has a chance to set off for anywhere, and “Satellite” is late-album padding. But the breathing space Spoon have given themselves recently – most notably on 2014’s They Want My Soul – is allowed an even larger berth on Lucifer on the Sofa. The sound is one of a band widening its reach by interpreting familiar music as something vaguely new, all things considered.
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