July 10, 2002

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Spoon
A Series of Sneaks (Merge)

By the late '90s so many bands had fallen victim to the industry's alt-rock binge 'n' purge – suits signing, then pink-slipping acts before so much as issuing a single to radio – that only the most naive optimists would've been shocked when the Wire-y post-punks in Spoon became major-label casualties in 1998. Still, when Elektra gave up on Austin, Texas's Great White Rock Hope only months after releasing A Series of Sneaks, die-hard fans threw their fists to the sky and angrily demanded justice.

Not that Spoon wasn't a worthy indie rock cause célèbre. it's just that the outcry was surprising considering how typical the trio's tale was. After releasing the promising Telephono LP and an EP on Matador, guitarist-vocalist Britt Daniel, drummer Jim Eno, and bassist Joshua Zarbo decided to move to the majors. But by the time they were primed to go platinum with Sneaks – a stunningly tuneful near-masterpiece of erratic, pop-punky rhythms and Daniel's brutally earnest delivery – the brainiacs at Elektra realized all those underground underdogs weren't recouping expenses and quickly let the release go out of print.

Seriously, though, did anyone expect, even with all the cash in Elektra's promo pocket, that the trio's jagged little thrills stood a fighting chance to get on radio's increasingly sleek 'n' slick playlists? And even if Daniel et al kept expectations low, getting curb kicked still hurts. It's a brilliant idea, then, for Sneaks' reissue on Merge to include "The Agony of [Ron] Lafitte," the album's two-song follow-up single wherein Spoon addresses the A&R rep who allegedly misled the band. "All I want to know," Daniel asks, "are you ever honest with anyone?" Discouraged and disappointed, it's the perfect conclusion to an album that, unfortunately but inevitably, lived up to its ominous title. (Jimmy Draper)