Published Jul 23, 2019It's a tricky thing to release a best-of album in the digital era. When the format was first conceived, each record in a band's catalogue existed only as itself — a distinct physical fact, separate from the one that preceded it. The concept of a best-of record, then, could offer something new: The chance to hear, in quick succession, how an artist's output tracked over the years, when time is flattened, with each hit slotted next to one another.
Now, anyone with a few minutes to spare can rummage through a band's catalogue and cobble together endless iterations of playlists — best-of albums in their own right, tailored directly to personal taste. When a band releases a greatest-hits record, it must compete directly with regrettably similar groupings of songs that we already had the chance to arrange.
Given this, it is perhaps unsurprising that the announcement of Everything Hits at Once — the new record covering the 26-year career of indie stalwarts Spoon — was greeted mostly with the question: Why? Why listen to this particular assembly of songs, in this particular sequence? Why now?
Despite the obstacles, Everything Hits at Once answers this question articulately and charmingly. Its answer is phrased in 12 tracks and one new song, "No Bullets Spent." The record's retroactive material is mostly culled from the strong mid-torso of Spoon's career, clustered around 2005's Gimme Fiction and 2007's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. (No material predating Girls Can Tell, the band's third studio album, is featured — an unfortunate, but understandable choice to leave lesser-known singles by the wayside.)
We get what we are promised: The big, indisputable hits. There's the slouching amble of "I Turn My Camera On," the fizzy stomp of "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb," and, of course, the ubiquitous "The Way We Get By," a track that has achieved such cultural saturation since its release that it was recently covered by presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg, in a bid for popular support.
In making a collage of these tracks, Everything Hits at Once wisely resists a chronological structure, one that would suggest the band's progression to be linear. Rather, the record jumps neatly between temporal and tonal registers, as electric rock peaks from 2017's "Hot Thoughts" fall back, over a decade, into the blustered guitar of Gimme Fiction's "I Summon You."
These editorial jump-cuts pull a connective tissue across the songs, shaping a richer sense of the texture of Spoon's decades-long career. It's in this curatorial insight that the album finds its success, as well as its own means of self-justification.
In the end, Everything Hits at Once may not be the most necessary thing. But, like most of Spoon's material, it is a well-crafted, admirable work — a pleasurable end unto itself. (Matador)