Befitting a band possessed of a canny way with a pop hook and a deep love of Anglo-invasion chord changes, Spoon have quietly engineered themselves a gradual yet inexorable path to significant critical and commercial success stateside. Yet there was always a sense that while they had no shame in their love of a lowest common denominator, that theirs’ was a purer, nobler pop equation drawn not just from a broader set of musical elements but actually from a whole alternate Pop universe. Teamed, as for 2014’s They Want My Soul, with Mercury Rev alumnus and producer Dave Fridmann, Spoon, now minus multi-instrumentalist Eric Harvey, produce in Hot Thoughts both an extension of their sound and its distillation into a blue-label strength concoction of darkness and rhythm. Above all else the album is infused with an urgent, at times furious, motorik pulse which flutters and wows under its multi-layers like fast twitch muscle fibres sown into the sinew of each song.
Opener, title track and single ‘Hot Thoughts’, a rock and beats Super-melange that manages to be at times both furry and animal sets this pattern, and it is carried through the flat-beat Joy Division bass drum lock-in of ‘WhisperI’lllistentohearit’ to the positively Studio 54 street swagger of ‘First Caress’ and its Jagger chicken-neck rhythm. It’s Rock and Pop music, it’s indie and alternate music, but most of all, it’s music made to be danced to. Someone did some serious drum programming on this – no two drum sounds are alike sometimes even within the same section of the same song. Other-directed Pop savvy is ever present – witness ‘Can I Sit Next to You’ bringing the sneering lip-curl Kashmir strings to its offbeat heavy rock two-step or the subterranean beat and Class-A vocoder patches of ‘Pink-Up’ – but the rhythmic undertow is always there. Even where a song like ‘I Ain’t the One’ holds out for ninety seconds of soulful Rhodes piano and cluster harmonies the revenant beat reaches up to pull it under to the icy depths of the Kid A drum-set wrapped in eerie 10cc strings.
The post-party comedown of ‘Us’ re-emphasises how beautiful a sense of space there is in the recording – the instrument separation is superb and the stereo picture imaginatively dispersed. Overall, it’s a shifting, changing, transitional album and the better for it – almost as if Spoon, like the Can song they named themselves after, were one album away from rehab or one snake-hipped crossover hit away from ubiquity.