Review Summary: We got our own ideas
Twenty-four years into their career, Spoon are still busy chipping away at their aesthetic, a single-minded pursuit that should have been old hat about five albums ago but still draws blood. Hot Thoughts
continues to tinker with a sound that long ago proved perfectly unique, yet the band is still able to somehow find something novel in past works: a new flaw to be lovingly exposed, another unforeseen feature painstakingly unearthed with a sculptor’s eye. The core of what makes Spoon Spoon
remains well in evidence. As usual, Britt Daniel and his bar band vocals are on top, perpetually seared but somehow still not hoarse after all these years. Jim Eno’s Swiss time keeping is omnipresent, here usually perpetually leaping out of the low end at you, lusty and full. Most of all there’s the easy command of tone, effortlessly honed, and Daniel’s biting, oblique lyricism. Generally, Spoon sound ageless – the title track is just the kind of taut, incisive lead single that the band have been churning out for years (the word “angular,” I’m pretty sure, was invented to describe the guitars on a Spoon record), spiced up with stabs of electronics and a neon mood but at its core a guitar rave-up that revolves around that killer earworm of a chord change. On others, most notably the watercolor hues and wary mysticism of “Pink Up” – and almost too obviously placed as the centerpiece of the record – they expand the borders of their sound farther than ever before. “Pink Up” is beautiful, haunting and weird in all the best ways, another phantom to wander alongside the outer edges of their discography with kindred spirits like “The Ghost of You Lingers” and “Was It You?”
If there’s a criticism to be leveled at Hot Thoughts
, it’s that Spoon seem almost consciously determined to position the record as a progression from what came before, the band’s attraction to electronics the clearest touchstone. Perhaps that’s just the critic in me talking, though. However distracting on first listen the disembodied, swirling effects building up through “Whisperi’lllistentohearit” may be, when they coalesce together as glorious white noise and resolve into an ass-kicking new wave hit, the results are sublime. The jarring synths and collapsing piano beef up “First Caress” into a coke addled dance floor hit, seemingly ready to burst at the seams but still, at less than three minutes, an effective pop bottle rocket. Where Spoon are widely considered a band steeped in the religion of minimalism, a busy song like “Do I Have To Talk You Into It” puts the lie to that, expressive and wildly colored without losing its naturally groovy thread. Each track reveals something new yet retains that Spoon flavor, revealing another gadget in a toolbox that seems bottomless. The production’s experimental bent will get most of the press, but Hot Thoughts’
greatest gift is that it successfully highlights Spoon’s most underrated trait: a mastery of the studio environment that has gone relatively unappreciated since at least 2005’s Gimme Fiction
. Indeed, the album’s sole misstep, protest anthem “Tear It Down,” is undercut more by Daniel’s clumsy, rote lyricism than the track’s rock solid, pub piano hook. Yet even when Daniel is coasting, like on the macho posturing of “Shotgun,” it’s not enough to defuse the manic energy that the band set a match to every track and happily, deliriously follow through on setting off.
When “Us” closes up shop, the rare instrumental in the group’s discography and surely the one most defined by its smoky mood and dedication to avoiding any particular structure, it almost feels like a dare, and maybe one that’s too on the nose. The lights have dimmed and all that’s left is that mournful horn, a 3 a.m. saxophone if there ever was one. Daniel is watching with lidded eyes somewhere, likely by the bar, probably more than a little drunk and already feeling a hangover creeping blackly in. “Us” is a companion piece to “Pink Up” and “I Ain’t The One,” the latter Daniel’s vision of a lounge singer’s ballad set in a post-industrial club from hell, the former’s vibraphone recalled in the blurry brushstrokes that saxophone paints in Hot Thoughts’
final moments. Together they represent Spoon’s bravest excursions to date, brilliant and distinct in their own way. Yet the common thread between all three, and the rest of Hot Thoughts
, is the painstaking attention to detail. It’s that craftsman’s care that is, more than any three-and-a-half-minute post-punk guitar track, the defining characteristic of what makes Spoon such a singular band, and what allows them to still maintain that capacity to surprise, nine albums and two-and-a-half decades on.