It’s hard to think of many bands who have been as consistently excellent for as long as Spoon have. For close to 30 years now, the Austin group have managed to maintain a restless, unsettled energy, expanding their sonic palette and transcending their obvious early influences as Britt Daniel, Jim Eno and a shifting lineup of collaborators honed a distinctive sound all their own. Spoon haven’t eased off a bit on Lucifer on the Sofa.
The band’s 10th album is also its first since 2017, and while it’s been a while since Spoon have had anything to prove, they still sound hungry. Indeed, Daniel has said that the title of the album refers to battling against “the bitterness, or lack of motivation or desperation that keeps you down and makes you do nothing or self-indulge.” Suffice to say that lack of motivation wasn’t a problem here. Lucifer on the Sofa is taut and textured, mixing trebly, caustic guitar licks with piano and big, propulsive currents of rhythm. Sometimes there’s a potent urgency underpinning the songs: “Feels Alright,” for example, opens with an abrading descending guitar riff and a boom-bap beat, then pivots into a vamp right on the edge of funk, with a lot of movement in the bassline. Elsewhere, “The Hardest Cut” is a tough boogie that bubbles and seethes with guitars over a relentless, clapping beat. There’s more than a hint here of another Texas stalwart, ZZ Top, but refracted through Spoon’s own particular sensibility.
Other tracks on the album lay back more, without sacrificing any of the intensity. Bright piano chords and acoustic guitar frame “My Babe,” and double-tracked vocals that are occasionally slightly out of sync add a hazy, dreamlike feel. A few tracks later, glimmers of electric piano and a curtain of wordless vocals provide the foundation for “Astral Jacket,” and Daniel harmonizes with himself over steady brushed drums, punctuated by distant rolling thwacks in the background. It’s a love song done Spoon’s way, breathy and genial, but with a solid backbone.
Laid-back and urgent are on equal footing on “Wild,” the centerpiece of the album. The arrangement adds and subtracts elements over a sleek groove as the song progresses: A stinging guitar riff opens the song, another guitar adds a bold, overdriven complement after the first verse, and piano adds rich, bell-like chords on the second chorus. Next, a fierce, but controlled guitar break builds to a climax before the whole thing recedes back to the stinging riff and unshakeable beat holding the track together.
“Wild” is catchy, it’s rhythmic in an almost subliminally danceable way, and it’s got soul—all the essential elements of Spoon, neatly wrapped into one three-minute and 14-second package. Add those things together and the effect is exhilarating—it’s the sound of a band in peak form who are pushing to get better, go further and resist any temptation to slack off. If Lucifer has taken up a position on their sofa, Spoon have no intention of sitting there and keeping him company.
Eric R. Danton has been contributing to Paste since 2013, and writing about music and pop culture for longer than he cares to admit. Follow him on Twitter or visit his website.