Spoon, ‘Hot Thoughts’: Album Review
Can you be minimalists and maximalists at the same time? Can you play with your toys, but keep them in their boxes? Can you have your Spoon and fork it too? These are the Hot Thoughts conjured by the Austin band’s new album.
Hot Thoughts is the second Spoon record in a row produced by Dave Fridmann – most famous for his sonic studio work with the Flaming Lips. The last time, Fridmann helped foster a rounder rock sound for Spoon. But 2014’s They Want My Soul seems like a test balloon next to this record, which gets bold and funky, spacey and jazzy, by way of synthesizers and saxophones.
“I Ain’t the One” is momentarily swept up in a gale storm of a soundscape. Keyboards strike like the Memphis Horns on “Do I Have to Talk You Into It?” The instrumental “Us” – the most brazen musical departure in Spoon’s 20-year-plus recording career – spotlights the lonely, distant wailing of saxophone that, twice, threatens to metastasize into something monstrous, but retreats to its position looming on the horizon – its mournful blurt worse than its bite.
But, through the changes, some of them drastic, Spoon still sounds like Spoon – sharp, melodic, defiant while creating space, a clean separation between the instruments. Fridmann may have helped the band weave fuller, softer soundscapes, but Spoon are only too willing to explode that pillow factory. Britt Daniel’s guitar slices into “WhisperI’lllistentohear.” Jim Eno’s drums crack like candyglass. Rob Pope’s bass tunnels its way into darkness. Tambourines hang in the air like Madame Leota put them there.
Watch the Video for “Can I Sit Next to You”
Hot Thoughts is also more groove-oriented than any previous Spoon album. Although the group has confessed its weakness for R&B in the past (“I Turn My Camera On,” “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb”), its music has never been as relentlessly rhythmic. From the trance-like “Pink Up” to the chiming, bouncy rock of the title track to the rubbery funk of “Can I Sit Next to You,” this record can become outright dancey. It’s kind of like Daft Punk's Random Access Memories written in reverse.
Of course, Daniel has always had a staccato rhythm to his delivery. His questions and declarations remain barbed, especially when launched from the part of his throat that erupts in a sewer grate croak. It’s a voice that turns banal “uh-huhs” into electric “aww-haws,” that transforms lyrics like “someday you’ll be where you should go” into threats.
Sometimes they are threats, as on the galloping “Shotgun,” which seems to echo the ugly political divide in the United States. Daniel squawks, “I never wanted to take it outside / Then you brought what you did to the fight.” If “Shotgun” carries a tinge of the political, “Tear It Down” appears to be firmly rooted in the age of Trump, with the Texas band announcing in the chorus, “Let them build a wall around us / I don’t care, I’m gonna tear it down / It’s just bricks and ill intentions / They don’t stand a chance, I’ll tear it down.”
But “Tear It Down” could be Spoon’s musical mantra, too. These guys consistently push past the noise, the gauze, the trappings of rock ’n’ roll to deliver exactly what’s necessary. This time out, it sounds a little bigger, a bit fuller, but never beyond the reach of the band’s kung-fu grip. Only the greatest bands discover a way to alter their sound while maintaining their specific, precious identity. Amidst the group’s biggest sonic shift yet, and its greatest challenge, Spoon shines through.
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