Spoon’s “Gimme Fiction” revisited


Ethan Schmidt, Radio Program Manager

On May 10, 2005, indie rock band Spoon released their fifth studio album Gimme Fiction, receiving critical acclaim for sticking to their usual sound, while still managing to refine it. The collection of songs features grooving beats, driving bass lines, and unsettling lyrics. Given its approaching 15th anniversary, I think it’s fitting to take a look at what some would argue to be Spoon’s best work.

The album kicks off with “The Beast and Dragon, Adored,” a song that I can’t stop thinking about since I first heard it eight months ago. The track begins with a simple descending four-note tune from a guitar, to which some deep notes on a piano echo. Suddenly, the drums explode, inviting the piano to sneer with some crunchy intervals, which sonically create a demonic image of the titular beings. The lyrics serve to establish the album’s purpose, even making references to other song titles. In the tune, singer Britt Daniel reaffirms the band members’ purpose as musicians to “slay [the beast and dragon] on cue,” also introducing the record’s thematic exploration of isolation, apocalypse, and soul.

The opener flows nicely into “The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine,” though it doesn’t carry the same sonic or lyrical weight that its predecessor holds. While the piano, strings, and guitars work well together, they don’t seem to progress anywhere, and get a little boring. Additionally, the lyrics are pretty vague, depicting a fuzzy image of a play with a character named Monsieur Valentine. It ends quietly, providing a solid transition to the next song with a light drum beat and bass guitar hum.

“I Turn My Camera On” is easily one of Spoon’s most recognizable songs, and with good reason. The guitars have a nice back and forth, each popping out for their catchy riffs. The steady drum beat and grooving bass line gives the tune a slick texture, and Daniel’s unsettling falsetto emphasizes the lyrics’ disillusioned tone. Daniels sings about feeling separated from the world when he turns his camera on—an insight that many have come to understand over the years as the use of mobile camera technology and social media have become widespread. In fact, the lyrics’ grappling with this isolation even speaks volumes to our current situation: stuck at home, cut off from the rest of the world, relying heavily on cameras to communicate with partners, friends, and loved ones.

Interestingly enough, the following song doesn’t fit very well into our COVID-19-plagued world. “My Mathematical Mind” shouts against George W. Bush’s administration. While I love the song’s catchy piano riff and frantic guitar solos, I think this song’s word choice has aged poorly. Specifically, the line “Planning for the apocalypse / Is not considered / considered cool” seems problematic today. While Daniel is rightfully protesting against Bush’s invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan here, I would argue that the problem with the invasion wasn’t Bush’s thinking that planning for the apocalypse is cool. In fact, according to an ABC News article, a few months after the song’s release, Bush would incidentally end up trying to plan for the apocalypse that we find ourselves in right now. In this case, a plan for the apocalypse would’ve been quite helpful.

Of course, it would be unfair of me to blame Daniel for not seeing 15 years into the future, and contextually, I get that he’s trying to play with the album’s motif of apocalyptic imagery. And, he does clarify in the second verse that “Bringing about the apocalypse / is not considered / considered cool,” which points out one of the bigger problems with Bush’s invasion. Nonetheless, I think the lyrics could’ve further specified Daniel’s problems with Bush.

After the track’s lengthy five-minute run, and a smooth transition of ambient bird noises, “The Delicate Place” creeps into focus with its rough acoustic guitar and dreamy electric guitar arpeggios. A heavy, slow drum beat drops in after the first chorus, seeming to build up to an explosive, frantic guitar solo after the second chorus. The lyrics paint a vivid insight into the mind of a stalker, and are complemented nicely by the mix of unsettling and occasional dreamy sounds.

“Sister Jack” is the worst track. (Yes, clever rhyme, I know.) The repeating guitar riffs are annoying, drowning out all the other instruments and staying stagnant for the entire three-and-a-half minute run. The guitar-playing in the song sounds like the artists gave me, an inexperienced player, a guitar and told me how to play a couple chords, then I got way too proud of myself and started strumming super loudly. On top of that, the lyrics don’t make a lot of sense.

“I Summon You” features a carefree acoustic guitar and some light, dreamy synths that fade in and out of the background. The vocal harmonies in the later choruses are also a nice touch. I love how the lyrics naturally implement the album’s apocalyptic motif into the hook. (“I summon you to appear my love.”) Additionally, I love the wordplay alluding to both law enforcement and sexual themes. (“Strapped-up soldiers, they’ll lock you in a cage.”)

“The Infinite Pet” contains some dreary, droning synths that haunt the background, mixed with an edgy piano and bass line that propel the song forward. Daniel’s creepy falsetto adds to the unsettling vibe of the whole track. The lyrics seem to speak of a college student who agonizes over his choice to spend the night with a prostitute, but once again, the lyrics lack many specific details to obtain a definite story.

The lyric writing of “Was It You” is much more clear, albeit simple. Daniel sings about seeing someone at night while trying to get home, then asks, “Was it you?” Sonically, Spoon creates that uneasy feeling of walking alone at night, slipping some distorted voices and a droning tone behind a driving beat and grooving bass line. On top of that, the song ends with a slick transition to the next, using ambient raining noise.

“They Never Got You” overstays its welcome, but it certainly has an effective start. The guitars slide in naturally with a driving, urgent force. Some tense synth noises and syncopated hand claps enter into the mix about halfway through, but ultimately, they don’t provide anything new to make the repetitive guitars and drums interesting. Lyrically, Daniel sings of his isolation he felt as a kid when hanging with friends, further exploring the album’s themes of isolation.

The record ends with the grooving “Merchants of Soul,” flexing a fun back-and forth between the piano and drums, the same popping hand claps from the previous track, and some unsettling strings that hover over the whole instrumentation. The lyrics are just as unsettling, in which Daniel describes being tempted to have his soul taken by some merchant of soul. (Presumably, one of which is “Ralph Reed?”)

Upon another look at this record, it seems that Spoon’s occasional vague lyrics weigh it down. Nonetheless, there’s no denying that almost every song on this album showcases the band’s ability to experiment in a sound that could easily become generic. While it may not be the best work in their discography, it’s certainly an important one that’s worth a listen.