Hot Thoughts by SpoonRelease date: March 17, 2017
Hot Thoughts is the ninth album from Spoon, but I have to admit it’s the first one I’ve listened to. I have heard the occasional track and have enjoyed some of them, but never enough to make me go and buy an album. It seems that in the U.K. at least I’m not alone in that attitude, where Spoon remain very much an unknown quantity to most people. You hardly ever hear their music on the radio, and that’s despite the fact they are one of the most admired bands ever among music critics. Several of my peers, whom I admire greatly, rave about Spoon at any given opportunity, but I have never met anyone away from the music biz who has ever professed an interest, let alone a love for them. So why have we in the U.K.. refused to take them into our, let’s be honest, pretty generous and inclusive musical hearts? It’s not the case in the U.S. where their previous three releases have made the top five in the albums chart and the band are set to cross the country twice on a very lengthy tour. By contrast Spoon will play just three theatre-sized gigs in mainland U.K. in June.
Well one of things I’ve discovered about the band is that they subtly reinvented themselves on every album, which is sure to endear themselves to critics, and that they are very strong on melodies and have interesting, mildly cryptic lyrics – two more big ticks there. But that’s all stuff most music fans enjoy, right?
For Hot Thoughts Spoon have decided to use the sounds and production styles of modern Rn’B: it’s the first time no acoustic guitars can be heard on one of their albums and everything is big, punchy, clipped, shiny and artificial. If that’s the kind of sound you are after as a band, then there’s no one better to go to than Dave Fridmann, the man responsible for Flaming Lips distinctive studio sound, where he takes all the psych weirdness, removes nearly all the organic materials and turns into hippy robot rock.
In keeping with the Rn’B vibe the first, track ‘Hot Thoughts’ itself is all sexy times, hot under the collar slinkyness. It’s a bold move for bunch of white indie rock dudes approaching middle age. They’re not the first to appropriate the sounds, Everything Everything give it a good spin through their prog-nerd filter and it works fine, but then there’s The Dirty Projectors who just sound like hipster idiots wishing they were Kanye West. Well, Spoon just about get away with it, in fact they push it to the limit a few times during the album, with several of the songs lyrics having vocalist Brit Daniel coming on like the priapic rock star playboy he probably isn’t.
In truth, the less the band come on like Justin Timberlake’s older brothers the better I like the album. The more interesting tracks are either weirder, such as ‘Pink Up’ or ‘Us’ or the more straightforward rocky numbers.
Of those rockier numbers, two of them – ‘Do I Have to Talk You Into It’ and ‘Shotgun’ are urgent, hook laden with strong beats, industrial synths and fuzzy guitar which fulfil a desire in me I never knew I had, to hear Paul McCartney cover Nine Inch Nails! If either of these two tracks got 6Music radio play I’m sure they would pick up a few more fans this side of the pond. ‘Tear It Down’ is also typically strong on melodies, with an insidious chorus and deceptively dark and strangely prescient lyrics over very perky beats and piano. It’s not a million miles away from Wilco’s Beatles-ish bittersweet pop moments.
‘Pink Up’ is the first real change of pace on the album, driven by what sounds like a vibraphone, a shifting melody and wordless cooing vocals, it leads into a sort of hallucinatory monologue or internal conversation, a mishmash of memories, hopes and fears. Harsh staccato drums begin to intrude and backwards vocals and tape loops drag it first into darker places and then drifting off into a twinkling half-life. The closing ‘Up’ suggests an alternative soundtrack to Blade Runner, all rain lashed neon and meaningful stares as a morose sounding saxophone plays what sounds like an elegy for a lost world. I can’t say it seems like a fitting end to the album, it sounds, along with ‘Pink Up’ like an entirely different band, but it does prove what an enormous amount of promise Spoon still have in their locker. Maybe there’s still time for them to win us over.
What I do know, is that I do now own a Spoon album, and I’m pretty happy about that.