A truly collaborative group, Spent — Annie Hayden and Joe Weston (both of Alligator), guitarist John King (Humidifier, a band in which Superchunk’s Jim Wilbur was also a member) and drummer Ed Radich — formed in Jersey City and wore their New Jersey colors proudly, with hardly a whiff of hairspray about them. Vocal and harmony duties were split between Hayden’s wispy tenor, Weston’s deep rumble and King’s high-pitched sprightliness, which formed dynamic contrasts within each song.
Spent’s first appearance came in early 1994, on The Now Sound’s compilation A Day in the Park — “View From a Staircase,” riff-catchy pop which immediately established a group with an appreciation for traditional indie rock songcraft and a showcase for individuality. That track ended up on Songs of Drinking and Rebellion, which may someday be appreciated for the wonder that it is. Its surprising fluidity, sense of lyrical wonder and careful melodic outplay places Spent on a par with such other intelligent pop groups as The Bats, Versus and Superchunk. In just the first three songs, tempos and moods veer radically — from the slow ballad “Brewster Station” to the emotive “Excuse Me While I Drink Myself to Death” and the high-energy “West.” Each track is distinct while the group maintains its musical anonymity (save for singing) by switching instruments and filling songs to capacity while playing on the same instrumental level. A sense of sacrifice for songs’ simplicity and assured tinkering with melody are to the album’s advantage, and Songs of Drinking and Rebellion is one of indie rock’s greatest albums.
The four-song Umbrella Wars offers the mid-tempo catchiness of the title track, a confused cover of Joe Walsh’s “A Life of Illusion,” “Angeleva” and “Unwrapped, Ungiven,” which consists of Hayden’s lilting singing, three guitar parts and Radich’s expert and spacious drumming. A Seat Beneath the Chairs loses focus at times — straying into overstretched melancholy moments on “Until We Have Enough” — but “Good Luck Line” and “Under False Eyelids” indicate the band’s continued melodic brilliance. The shining track is “The Quarter Conspiracy,” in which an orchestrated sense for harmonic grandiosity is carefully played and expertly achieved.
After Spent broke up in 1997, Radich entered culinary school, while King recorded an album of Humidifier songs with his old bandmates.