Around nine years ago, Hot Chip co-frontman Joe Goddard appeared on the BBC’s then Simon Amstell-fronted quiz show Never Mind The Buzzcocks. His big moment came towards the end, during the round where Amstell read a lyric and it was up to the team to finish. Goddard answered every line without hesitation and with the same understated, just-happy-to-be-here vibe he gave off in the rest of the episode, prompting Amstell to ask how he knew so many lyrics from pop music’s varied history. Goddard’s staggered answer, “I’m a popstar”, got the biggest laugh of the night, because of the self-awareness that this dorky, withdrawn fellow being a popstar appeared absurd.
The thing, though, is that he was right. Hot Chip may have added gloss to their style over the years, but they’ve achieved success by making their nerdiness a virtue. For all their goofy lyrics and ridiculous music videos, there’s an equal amount of heartfelt sincerity, contentment in love and poppy effervescence. While Alexis Taylor’s solo work is all gentle piano and soul-obsessed introversion, Goddard turns the other direction: bass-heavy euphoric house.
Electric Lines (Goddard’s second solo album after 2009’s odds-and-sods Harvest Festival) was born out of his fascination with the house producers he finds himself admiring more than centre-stage performers, who command wide influence even if they are not household names. As such, the album isn’t quite the work of someone who wants to be a popstar – out of the ten tracks, Goddard’s vocals only appear on four, preferring instead to collaborate with more effervescent, confident singers like Jess Mills, Daniel Wilson and Valentina.
Though anonymity was obviously what Goddard was going for, it does not always work in the album’s favour – ‘Ordinary Madness’ has all the hallmarks of a solid pop-house song, with bright chords and love-obsessed head-in-the-clouds lyrics (“I can feel the sun orbiting around me”), but it all feels a bit boilerplate and forgettable. Not to mention that almost nothing about it suggests that it could be recognised as a Goddard project when heard out of context, no hint of humour or deconstruction to hold onto once the earworm takes its leave. ‘Human Heart’ and the title track (featuring Hot Chip bandmate Alexis Taylor) also suffer from this problem, the latter song especially sounding like something that would fit snugly in a Hot Chip b-side collection, with lyrics that seem to be trying to say something profound about the influence of technology on modern music production but with gaps where the insight should be.
Goddard is much more successful at his invisible-touch goal on ‘Home’, where a sample from 70’s disco group Brainstorm is paired beautifully with Wilson’s star-making performance, going from relaxed to full-on disco diva with ease. Closer ‘Music Is The Answer’ takes a similar trick, using an interpolation of Celeda’s sticky-sweet house classic and infusing it with a slight melancholia.
Also making the album worth a listen are tracks such as ‘Lose Your Love’ and ‘Children’ where Goddard layers samples, spare vocals and piercing riffs to create solid, big room house. An entire album of tracks like these might have been better able to convey his ambitions as a classically minded dance producer, but then a part of Hot Chip’s charm has always been their grab-bag nature, their willingness to stuff everything passing through their minds into one consistent project.
Electric Lines is a good album but not a great one, a show-off of Goddard’s enviable talents and knowledge that doesn’t quite achieve its goals but gets pretty close. As Hot Chip gear up to start work on their next album, it shows that Goddard suits the role of popstar more than he might like to admit.