Do you like songs about gender issues, white male privilege, masculinity, and society in general? If not, you may want to quit reading here. Spoonboy, led by David Combs, is dedicated and upfront about these causes. Much like his other band, The Max Levine Ensemble, the general tone is preachy (to the choir), with pop song structures, direct lyrics, and a personal element to reel it all in. The primary differences are the musical tone: Spoonboy is more solemn and tied to Combs. This is the kind of release that people will either love or hate, without much middle ground. Combs’ previous Spoonboy record was way back in 2005 on Plan-It-X.
As for this release, The Papas, the sound is well produced, giving a complete, fuller sound and less of a solo feel. The CD actually comes with 2 versions back-to-back: first the full band and then a solo, acoustic version of the same songs in sequence. The LP is full band and comes with a CD of the acoustic—and that’s not accounting for the zine that comes with both. In general, the recurring theme of the record surrounds adolescents’ growth while under the tutelage of less-than-exemplary father figures. The storytelling tone is strong and Combs’ lyricism, while very direct, comes across as authentic and sympathetic. The various characters throughout pull in the listener, and Combs’ vocals fit well with the backing music.
The sound here isn’t so much folk as a well-produced indie pop whose songs are reliant on Combs’ striking stories. The music is varied, pulling in a solo electric guitar to introduce “Gerald Lee Palmer” and using backing horns in “The Mamas and the Papas.” “My Antonia” is defined by its jangly guitars, and as the horns bleat in the background of “The Mamas and the Papas” I even have brief flashes of The Decemberists. Overall, though, the best reference points for Spoonboy would be Max Levine Ensemble and The Mountain Goats.
The record, by itself, is surprisingly strong. Generally, such heavy-handed themes wear on a listener over fourteen songs. Here, the varied musical backing, clever (yet pointed) phrasing, and the pull of the characters makes for an, um, enjoyable listen—even if that word choice does feel a bit inappropriate. Standouts include “Stab Yer Dad,” “Gerald Lee Palmer,” and “Sexy Dreams.”
Where the CD itself falters is length. The acoustic songs—while intended, I’m sure, to strip the songs to their heart—are a drag. The recording quality is poor, and the energy and positive rhythm that the full band accomplishes turns into a samey mess as the songs repeat themselves. If this was included on a separate bonus disc it would play much better. As a combined 30-track disc, it gets old quickly once the acoustic portion starts.
Full Band: 7.2
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