Spoon’s advanced age render Lucifer on the Sofa’s mixed results a post-peak work.
Though we are emerging from Q1 2022 on shaky ground globally speaking, this recent past has already been canonized as a banner micro-era elsewhere in certain Internet music circles, with new albums from ascendant acts like Big Thief and Black Country, New Road (and a returning old guard contingent in Beach House and Animal Collective) embodying this supposedly exemplary moment in modern music. An overstated phenomenon dictated by rockist dogma notwithstanding, the current landscape makes for a curious moment in which to receive a new album from Spoon, a quintet of indie rock lifers whose initial come-up benefited from a similarly homogenous, indie-friendly critical perspective. Indeed, the band’s 2000s output boasts the highest Metacritic average of any other contemporary musician that decade – for those who care about such things – and their albums released in the 2010s, though embraced a little less warmly, each delivered their own distinct variation on a “for the fans” gesture. After a five-year gap between releases (the band’s longest to date), Spoon now return with their ninth album, Lucifer on the Sofa, which effectively sells the band’s turntables for guitars and offers up some of the most linear riffage of Spoon’s career. If a somewhat inelegant contraction for a group whose music already “rocked” in the absence of such direct assurances, the album slots tidily alongside Spoon’s usual assemblies of component parts slightly askew, sonically contiguous with the band’s oeuvre to date (if not exactly a broader, celebration-worthy musical moment).
Within that body of work, Lucifer’s taut aesthetic most immediately scans as an effortful pivot away from previous record Hot Thoughts, whose warped contours and unexpected orchestrations made it the first truly divisive release in a discography characterized by its consistency. Lucifer’s rock n’ roll retrenchment excels the most in its moments of ragged glory, as on album-opening Smog cover “Held,” whose tape hiss and studio chatter eventually builds to a full-band squall, its valorization of human contact in a world ablaze as potent in the song’s original iteration as Spoon’s here. The apocalyptic imagery recurs on Lucifer’s first single “The Hardest Cut,” though its motorized swing is less locomotive than lurching; a devoted ZZ Top homage so rigid that any potential for urgency is sapped dry. These louder earlier cuts are ultimately something of a feint, with the album proper hewing closer to its titular implication of a Death domesticated, borne out in a back half of muscular balladry and some of Spoon’s most direct love songs ever (the swaggering “Wild” and glistening “Astral Jacket” are highlights in this mold). While too gentle and seemingly sincere to offend, this stretch is also largely too bland to offend, featuring structures and sentiments whose uncomplicated ease corresponds to a lack of bite – not ideal in the context of this theoretically tough-as-nails rock music exercise, nor for a band whose advanced age render Lucifer’s mixed results a definitionally post-peak work. It’s hardly a total wash – Lucifer’s compelling title track and closer returns the group to their signature sense of agita and unease – but its modest appeal mostly affirms the idea that future Spoon successes will transpire on a smaller scale, matching neither the current indie music vanguard nor their acclaimed earlier era.
Published as part of Album Roundup — February 2022 | Part 3.