How to follow a paradigm shift? Three years ago, the swaggering Kill the Moonlight
stripped an already basic sound down to the studs. The immediate result was bracing, a minor masterpiece of ascetic reinvention. The secondary effect was a hum of expectation that has swelled to a ululating cry: What next, Spoon? Gimme Fiction
doesn't really answer the question. It's a hangover of an album, slow, unsteady and bloodshot. But for a few songs in its first half, it upholds the new matrix with something more than mere duty. Album opener "The Beast and Dragon, Adored" acknowledges the pressure on the band and dodges it with an ask-for-it-by-name reference to the Meaning of Life: It took its time a-workin' into my soul
/I got to believe it come from rock and roll
. Uh oh. But songwriter Britt Daniel's curt, vinegary delivery keeps smugness at bay, and his guitar is a hacksaw attacking a playground swing in short, angry strokes. "The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine" steals a shot of Ram
spunk from Paul McCartney, chugging along on piano figures as stealthy and spare as stolen notes on the old music-class upright and gaining urgency from Emergency Broadcast System cello lines. And "I Turn My Camera On," which purposely recalls the Stones' lick-Mick's-disco-balls classic "Emotional Rescue," snorts its own line of Studio 54 coke through a rolled-up dollar bill, a slick thrill cheaply (and effectively) conveyed. Daniel keeps the groove steady elsewhere, but much of Fiction
's remainder is remote and forgettable, a lapse that would be easier to shake off had the wait not been so long.