On Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, indie-rock veterans Spoon stay on their forceful repeating alt-pop path, with basically a less arresting version of 2005’s Gimme Fiction – except when they channel 70’s/80’s-era Billy Joel. The biggest success out of Austin’s flourishing alternative music scene, Spoon took the country by storm with Fiction, and Ga largely repeats Fiction’s repeating notes and beats that grow more pressing with every iteration, but Ga isn’t quite so able to sweep you off your feet. The one major difference is that the piano and vocals are turned up at times, with singer/guitarist Britt Daniels’ raspy-but-high voice directly resembling classic Joel.
Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga unfortunately begins with its weakest numbers, but really hits its stride in the middle with “Rhthm & Soul” and “Eddie’s Ragga”. The catchy “Rhthm” is dark but also bright, while “Ragga” (about Edward Roberts, the bassist for recent Austin hit, I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness) is dark and cool, but both deliver a depth of character and great, but not overdone, note beats. Overdone piano note beats mar opening tracks “Don’t Make Me A Target” and “The Ghost of You Lingers”; “Ghost” tries a little too hard with its a haunting piano and multiple, affected vocals, while “Target” reads like a paler version of 2002’s Kill The Moonlight’s celebrated single, “The Way We Get By”.
Better stripped-down work and returns to form can be found at the end of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. The low-key but powerful “Black Like Me” closes Ga with Daniels’ voice at its hoarsest, and most evocative, while preceding numbers “My Little Japanese Cigarette Case” and “Finer Feelings” stand toe-to-toe with Spoon’s past songs. “Cigarette Case” is moody, but not full of itself, and gets progressively more and more expansive, even introducing mandolin-like plucking & strumming. And “Feelings” is maybe the most strictly alt-rock track on Ga, with its catchy wry sadness pushing all the right buttons like Spoon can do so well.
There is something else on Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga that is done a little better on the second half than on the first, and that’s how it taps the 70’s piano-based sad pop/rock well of singer/songwriter Billy Joel. “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb” does feature some single-worthy pop, and “Don’t You Evah” (a cover of The Natural History’s unreleased “Don’t You Ever”, from their never-released second album) has a good, grooving way about it, but their ‘world-wise guy questioning a girl’s self-confidence about her life’ wears a little thin. Best of the Joel-esque pieces is later track “The Underdog”, whose wry piano-pop and horns brings to mind Billy Joel’s “My Life” so clearly that one can almost see the opening credits of Bosom Buddies (the 1980-82 Tom Hanks-before-he-was-famous cross-dressing sitcom that had a version of “My Life” as its theme song). But “My Life” happens to be a great song, and so is “The Underdog”.
The way Spoon draws from the seventies and eighties work of a pop tunesmith like Billy Joel is reminiscent of what fellow established Middle America alt-stars Wilco did with Randy Newman on Sky Blue Sky (QRO Review), though not quite as pervasively, but with likewise mixed, but generally good, results. And it does provide Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga with some otherwise-lacking distance from their last effort, as Ga can otherwise feel a little like ‘Gimme Some More Fiction’. But if Ga is just Gimme Fiction + classic Billy Joel, well, it’s not like those two ain’t some great music.