Songs of the decade: “The Underdog”


Spoon | “The Underdog” | 2007

Perhaps it isn’t surprising – or, isn’t supposed to be – that the most fun song Spoon released this decade features uplifting Motown-esque horns. The lyrics, too, are notably upbeat with a concise message of not giving up, laying down in the face of difficulty or, most importantly, being (or becoming) social garnish. The song’s lyrics are quotable ad infinitum, whether he’s describing what perfection is to most people (“it can’t all be wedding cake” and “it may not be photo op”) or the desire to remove one’s self from “the middle” while concurrently wondering if that’s what you honestly want (“I wanna forget how convention fits/ But can I get out from under it?”).

Oh, but then there’s that opening. It’s damn hard to create an epic song movement with an acoustic guitar, but if anyone can do it, Britt Daniel can. Since the three-piece horn section takes over the melody, Britt’s guitar largely moves to the rhythm section where it causes your pulse to race. Then there’s Jim Eno’s drums at the end: they’re like fireworks.

It also shouldn’t be a surprise that this is the only Jon Brion-produced track from Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. Having done Fiona’s and Kanye’s sophomore efforts, his production discography suggests that he’s a master of pushing an artist in a direction they need to go instead of want to. Especially on Late Registration, Brion’s string arrangements augment Kanye’s work without overpowering it. Here, it’s obvious that the horns are meant to carry the song’s melody but the key to it, as it is with most key Spoon tracks, is Britt’s starry-eyed, if slightly hesitant, kid voice. He wants to get his message across, but he knows the ideas he’s shoving towards you are probably ridiculous to the average person. That, of course, is why he’s is so adamant about convincing you to “get free from the middle man,” lest reality hits you with a blow from which “you will not survive.”

Actually, “The Underdog” is such a fantastic composition that is overshadows every other song on Ga Ga, a shame considering it’s one of the top records of 2007. It’s one of the very few tracks that doesn’t need any tinkering at all. Every instrument, every note, every second – they’re all essential to making it a truly great anthem of overcoming mediocrity.

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