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A Thing Called Divine Fits
Photo by Autumn DeWilde
No one seems apt to write a review of the Divine Fits’ new record without using the “S” word. Though the term originally has its origins rooted earnestly in the “Super Session” — a 1968 record by Stephen Stills and Mike Bloomfield — the “supergroup” label reeks by now of a commercially marketed plastic façade. As Fits’ singer Britt Daniel (Spoon) told SPIN Magazine in a recent interview, “It sounds like a bunch of managers got together and said ‘You know, if we got these people in a room…’” Observed singer Dan Boeckner (Handsome Furs, Wolf Parade) in the same interview, “Can you think of many bands that were called supergroups that were actually good? No, not really.”
They’re both right. By its nature, the formation of a “supergroup” threatens to immediately cast a creative differential that’s in many cases irreconcilable, and that as a result frequently goes unfulfilled. Any great band is more than the sum of its parts, but if a collaboration of heavyweight talent fails to produce the killer record you might expect — an instant classic, even — that’s a big disappointment for the fans of all the members involved, who end up just wishing the respective counterparts had spent the time and effort just working on a new record with their own bands.
The good news is: the Divine Fits isn’t really a supergroup, at least not in the conventional sense, the sense in which The Traveling Wilburys or Oysterhead were supergroups. Instead, they feel more like a side project for the two singers, Daniel and Boeckner, that New Bomb Turks’ drummer Sam Brown happens to have been around to bang on a kit for. Mostly though, you get the sense that it’s Daniel’s spare-beats-driven songwriting style that created this record, A Thing Called Divine Fits, in some places allowing him to enjoy the addition of a rhythm guitar part, supplied by Boeckner, that isn’t available to him in Spoon recordings, resulting at times in a fuller sound for his music.
But in most cases on this record, the difference between what he’d call a “Divine Fits song” and what he’d call a “Spoon song” is difficult to resolve. ”Flaggin A Ride” and “Like Ice Cream,” may as well be deep cuts from Spoon’s last record, Transference. ”Neopolitans” updates Spoon’s “The Ghost Of You Lingers,” despite the fact that it’s Boeckner, and not Daniel, who sings it. Rather than a musical collaboration in the truest sense — composition created by the songwriting talent of two or more people, and where the input of independent musicians spawns new material that neither one would have come up with on his or her own — A Thing Called Divine Fits sounds more like a record of five Britt Daniel tracks that Dan Boeckner plays on, and four Dan Boeckner tracks that Britt Daniel plays on, four tracks that almost seem written and sung with Spoon in mind by a clearly enchanted and beholden Boeckner. Even the credited songwriting collaboration — “What Gets You Alone” — sounds like a Spoon song (Daniel wrote the music, after all), with Boeckner’s lyrics delivered almost as though he’s trying to sound like Spoon’s frontman.
(If you’re doing the quick math, yes, there are eleven tracks on this record. Track nine, “Shivers,” is a cover of a 1978 Birthday Party song, updated and perfectly delivered by Britt, channeling his best post-punk Rowland S. Howard and
infusing his own brand of Plastic-Ono-Band-era, primal-scream Lennon and, yes, it’s beyond all critique.)
In fact, all of this, it’s hardly even criticism. The Fits’ first record is a labor of love, and their love is real. Sometimes you can’t ask for more than that. Daniel’s and Boeckner’s styles aren’t so dissimilar as to create even a note of incohesive dissonance within this collection of songs, or in the discernable line of dichotomy between Boeckner’s and Daniel’s contributions. With Spoon, Daniel created a novel, original, sustainable style for modern rock, muscular in its execution and far-reaching in its influence. With the Divine Fits, we don’t see much evolution in his songwriting or delivery. But that’s okay, because, what we do get is the same reliable quality from him that we’ve always gotten. And if their project lasts, The Divine Fits may never achieve much more than to simply toe the line between “sum of its parts” and “being more than that.” That said, if the parts to tally include the visionary and seemingly inexhaustible talent of Britt Daniel and two other honest and talented musicians, the total will always be worth pressing play.