Nothing shapes you up like rejection. Just ask Wilco, who turned getting dropped from their record label four years ago into a strange kind of career move, complete with accompanying movie and books. Or better yet, ask their Austin analogues Spoon, who in 1999 were let go from their Elektra deal, issued a petulant single about their former A&R man, then shook it off and got down to business.
On 2001’s Girls Can Tell, and especially 2002’s Kill the Moonlight, guitarist/singer Britt Daniel, drummer Jim Eno, and a revolving supporting cast played a catchy, cool, low-key, often sly hybrid of indie and classic rock that reveled in seemingly minor stuff. It didn’t seem like an accident that Moonlight’s tone was set by songs called “Small Stakes” and “The Way We Get By.” What they did wasn’t going to change the world, and that was fine. But they were going to do it as intricately and nattily as possible.
Daniel’s stakes haven’t risen all that much on Gimme Fiction, but his level of intricacy has. Fiction is less nervous than its predecessors but emotionally knottier–the relatively straightforward “Sister Jack” seems diffuse, with Daniel lamenting “I can’t relax / With my knees on the ground and a stick in my back” over Stones-y riff-chords, while the oddly swaggering “I Turn My Camera On” calls to mind a remote “Emotional Rescue”: “I turn my feelings off / They’ve made me untouchable for life,” Daniel sings in arch falsetto over a two-note disco bass and clop-slam drums. Good thing the music opens up a lot more than the words, particularly the heavy-fingered keyboard hooks that give “My Mathematical Mind,” “Merchants of Soul,” and “The Infinite Pet” a new-wave heft reminiscent of early Joe Jackson in rocker mode. It might not get Daniel a cottage industry like Wilco’s, but it’s definitely a good way to get by.