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Stranger than 'fiction'

The success of Spoon's new album has surprised even the band

Britt Daniel was feeling good. And fortunate. And thankful.

It was May 22, and only two days earlier, Daniel had returned to his home in Austin, Texas, for the first time in weeks. He arrived just in time to get news about ''Gimme Fiction," the fifth full-length CD by his indie rock band, Spoon.

Released just a week earlier, ''Gimme Fiction" had already sold close to 20,000 copies, enough to debut at No. 44 on the Billboard 200 album chart. While such sales figures would be disappointing for the likes of, say, U2, for an indie rock band they're downright astronomical.

''It was pretty amazing," said Daniel, whose band plays the Paradise on Tuesday. ''I never would have ever guessed it."

Not even in light of the success of the band's previous album, 2002's ''Kill the Moonlight." That disc won over critics who'd dismissed Spoon's first two records and been lukewarm on its third, 2001's ''Girls Can Tell." But ''Kill the Moonlight" turned the band's club shows into sellouts. And it outperformed all of Spoon's previous releases, selling approximately 90,000 copies over the past three years.

The Billboard debut also makes ''Gimme Fiction" a more successful album than the band's lone major label outing, 1998's ''A Series of Sneaks," which failed to find an audience despite the backing of Elektra Records.

But the buzz surrounding the new disc hardly gave Daniel, or Spoon's only other long-term member, drummer Jim Eno, reason to believe it would become a chart hit.

''I knew that we would sell more copies the first week than we did of the last album," said Daniel, who sings and plays guitar and keyboards. ''But, you know, just being that high in the Billboard top 200 is just . . . I don't see a lot of bands that I like that accomplish that. I mean, usually the ones that do are pretty huge like, I don't know, Beck."

Indeed, the positive response has had Daniel contemplating a move. Not that he's planning to go far. Except for a short-lived relocation to Chicago in 1998, he's been in Austin for 16 years, ever since he left his home in nearby Temple to attend the University of Texas.

He and Eno started Spoon in Austin in 1992, and he's planning to stay. But he's been in the same small apartment since 2001 and thinks it's time he expanded.

''I've been in this apartment since right after 'Girls Can Tell' came out, and, uh, I think it would help my frame of mind to get out of here," Daniel said. ''It would help my creativity."

Cramped quarters aside, Daniel seems to be doing all right in the creativity department. ''Gimme Fiction" is Spoon's finest artistic achievement to date, a record that actually manages to top the stunning ''Moonlight." It also confirms that that album and ''Girls Can Tell" weren't anomalies, that Spoon has become more than the average indie rock band it appeared to be early on.

The 11 tracks on ''Gimme Fiction" are sparsely arranged, using space as effectively as sound. All of the songs make use of repetition, with short progressions and straightforward beats providing not only rhythmic building blocks, but much of the framework that typically derives from melody.

The album is masterfully constructed, juxtaposing varied musical expressions to sublime effect. The foreboding ''My Mathematical Mind" with its repetitive piano and ''I Am the Walrus"-style frantic strings, gives way to the dispassionate new-wave-styled ''The Delicate Place," which in turn leads to the energized mod-styled ''Sister Jack" and the acoustic bounce of ''I Summon You." The record repeatedly lifts, then drops the listener, creating then overturning expectation.

And the disc somehow remains surprising and mysterious with repeated listens. Like ''Moonlight," ''Gimme Fiction" is a record that demands thought and attention from the listener, but with every spin come new discoveries.

Eric Bachmann, who fronts the indie band Crooked Fingers and is a friend of Daniel's, believes Spoon's success can be attributed to the care and planning the band puts into its creative process, from writing and arranging to execution in the studio. Bachmann, who contributed backing vocals to ''I Turn My Camera On," the first single from ''Gimme Fiction," saw the deliberation Daniel puts into making records firsthand.

''When I worked with him, he knew exactly what he wanted me to do," Bachmann said. ''He actually wanted me to sing in a gruffer voice than I did, but it was in too high a key for that voice. So I said, if you want a gruffer voice, I've got to sing in a lower key. And he was, like, 'No, this is the note.' "

Daniel said it was more important to get everything exactly right on ''Gimme Fiction" than it has been with past records, largely because ''Moonlight" was so good and so well received.

''It was the first time I felt like we're in a band and it's working and people are paying attention," he said.

He set out to do whatever it took to make a record that would live up to expectations. That he exceeded them only provides reason to believe that there are greater heights in store for Spoon yet.

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