REVIEW: Spoon: Kill the Moonlight
Spoon: Kill the Moonlight [Merge, 2002] (mp3s)
Three words? If the Beatles...
With Kill the Moonlight, the Beatles have exploded back onto the rock'n'roll scene, demonstrating that they have not been sleeping over the past thirty-five years, that they've been listening (and listening good), brooding and playing and growing a little jaded. These twelve songs retain the raw melodic oomph of the group's Revolver heyday, show the whimsy that endeared them to so many hearts. It should not be said, however, that the Beatles are retreading the same old territory: they listened to the Velvet Underground like everybody else, they heard Television and the Stooges. This changed them, tattooed them. Though some might argue that Kill the Moonlight is informed by the muddy guitar-pop of the Strokes' 2001 debut, it's more likely that the bands have simply been buying the same records. With the exception of Lennon's Prince impression on the denim-jacket-soul of "Stay Don't Go", these songs bristle with bicycle-chugging guitars, left-handed hooks and loose, mumbly vocals. Taking cues from what they learned in the rough-cut take of "Revolution 1", "Something to Look Forward To" boasts an uncharacteristic strut; "You gotta make me shut up," says McCartney, half-cocky, "Gimme something to look forward to". "Small Stakes" has got the year's toe-tappingest keyboard line, tambourine going off like an egg-timer, drums appearing like muffled thunder, raising the spectre of the Kinks and the Who. Gone is the sappy "I Want to Hold Your Hant", replaced with the zing of "Don't Let It Get You Down": this is soda-pop that goes down a little rough -- Ben Folds in a garage-band, writing for where the heart meets the booty, for where the ache starts to bloom.
Even when things slow, when they get almost pretty, there remains the tang of frustration, of alienation. "Vittorio E." folds piano, guitar, choral voices over each other... "The river was long," we hear, and see the greenery pass us on either side. Underneath this beauty, however, is an intense emptiness -- a feeling of lack. "I took a river and it wouldn't let go / I want you to stay and I want you to go ... I want to get there but it's just out of sight." What gives Kill the Moonlight lasting power - what makes its first half better than the second -- is the loneliness that underpins even the crunchiest melody. There are paeans to thinking small ("me and my friends sell ourselves short / but ... we feel fine / small time danger in your midsize car"); odes to simply "getting by"; the lingering glow of meaning in simply being "there with you when you turn out the light". The songwriting dismisses typical angst of love&hate, staring instead at the hideous middling grey. Thrown in with pop songs that rock but don't quite rock out, the sensation of incompleteness approaches - god forbid - a sense of Art.
If that's not your bag, there's still more than enough to enjoy here. One can easily drown oneself in the heavy-breathing bounce of "Stay Don't Go", in the rough-hewn snarls of "Jonathon Fisk". Even where the album struggles - "All the Pretty Girls Go to the City", "You Gotta Feel It" - the drums remain precise and poppin', the bassline jumpy.
While Kill the Moonlight doesn't approach the brilliance of the Beatles' most lyrical, expansive works, it certainly marks an artistic progression that rejects any suspicions that the group had become irrelevant. Where "Norwegian Wood" dressed up alienation in sitar sing-song, Kill the Moonlight makes leather-jacket crooning a site for entropy and not-quite-loss; tears are wiped away with sweat... it's all the same under the lights.