Spoon - Hot Thoughts Album Review
Few indie rock acts that rose to prominence in the 2000s have had the longevity Spoon has. Despite hitting their hot streak in the 2000s with albums such as 2002’s Kill the Moonlight, 2005’s Gimme Fiction, and 2007’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Spoon continues to achieve levels of critical and fan admiration shared by their colleagues like Arcade Fire, The National, and Arctic Monkeys. Yet, unlike those groups whose sound has changed and evolved, Spoon have kept to their winning formula of accessible, stripped down rock music with an undeniable charisma that has kept them on rotation at alternative and indie stations while still loved at the grimiest underground dive bars across the US.
That was the case at least until now: Hot Thoughts sees the first palpable experimentation for the group, translating the infectious, rhythm-centric grooves that made for classic tracks like “Don’t You Evah” and “I Turn My Camera On” into synth-tinged, dance-influenced indie rock. There’s still something definitively Spoonish about the tracks here, but Hot Thoughts nearly ditches every convention the band has gained acclaim for during its best moments.
Within seconds, the album's titular track and first single “Hot Thoughts” places frontman Britt Daniel in unfamiliar territory, barely holding back from a falsetto as stirring violin synths fight for attention over grooving guitars. Daniel’s vocal performance grounds the song in the traditional Spoon swagger that’s kept them as indie darlings for so long. The instrumental, while nothing unique compared to the dance experimentation of their indie peers, is put together with precision to balance catchiness with exploratory sounds.
The band doubles down on this sound with tracks like “WhisperI’lllistentohearit,” “Do I Have to Talk You Into It,” “First Caress,” “Pink Up,” and “I Ain’t the One.” Spoon wear their 80’s influences of their sleeves from the brooding of Depeche Mode to the jittery quirks of Talking Heads. What could have made for a passé attempt at a gimmicky sound works surprisingly well on these tracks. Rather than simply slapping effects over their instruments, Spoon fully fleshes out unique melodies and sonic textures over the course of these songs.
“Pink Up” is where Spoon really shine with their experimentation. Their ability to hold back and allow the song to evolve at a slow burn over the course of the nearly six-minute run time reveals a compositional side to Spoon we haven’t seen before. On “Us,” the album's closer, they take an ethereal approach to the same track, introducing a flowing sax over the instrumental of “Pink Up” that sounds like a long lost Pink Floyd track. They’re ambitious tracks for a band that, up to this point, has comfortably survived on consistent, quality songwriting over the same rock aesthetics since the early 2000s.
And while not as ambitious compositionally, “Hot Thoughts,” “WhisperI’lllistentohearit,” “First Caress,” “Do I Have to Talk You Into It,” and “I Ain’t the One” benefit from Spoon’s great songwriting, where they utilize the dance and synth aesthetics in a way that compliments the atmosphere they’re shooting for on these songs. Moments like the change up half way through “WhisperI’lllistentohearit,” when the drum kicks in over roaring synths and the bass and guitar duel for the listener’s attention, keep each of these tracks fresh with high relistenabibility. “I Ain’t the One,” while more stripped back than its counterparts, stands out for its string-tight atmosphere that showcases Daniel’s vocal chops.
But just when you think Spoon have put out their answer to Arcade Fire’s Reflektor, they throw on a handful of tracks that sound like they were cut and pasted from past records onto the tail end of this album. I had to check my phone to make sure Spotify hadn’t started playing a different Spoon album by mistake when “Can I Sit Next to You” started up after the sweeping “Pink Up.” “Can I Sit Next to You,” along with “Tear It Down” and “Shotgun,” contain minimal (if any) of the musical ideas or sonic concepts that have been established up to this point in the album.
That’s not to say these are bad tracks. “Can I Sit Next to You” sounds like a perfect blend of past Spoon tracks “I Turn My Camera On” and “Written In Reverse,” letting Daniels charismatic and captivating vocal performance soar over a signature Spoon moody bass groove and minimal guitar riff. “Tear It Down” acts as an antithesis to past Spoon hit “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb,” hitting almost the same musical moments, but with a more reserved, emotionally downtrodden approach.
While these two tracks are certainly some of the best on the record, they do a disservice to the tone set on the first half. It would have been nice to see Spoon push themselves to record these songs with the musical ideas they had developed earlier. In a way, Spoon attempts this with “Shotgun,” but the song lacks any real progression and shifts awkwardly between synth pads and traditional rock aesthetics, rather than combining the two in any meaningful way.
Spoon are not the first to hop on the recent trend of incorporating synths and dance influences into indie-rock, but on the better half of the tracks where they do on Hot Thoughts, they deliver some of the most experimental and fresh songs of their career. Yet, they fail to take the full plunge into this sonic experimentation, throwing on safe tracks to keep the die-hard fans happy while distorting the flow and cohesiveness of the record.
Had Spoon released the album with just a few more experimental tracks and saved the out of place “Can I Sit Next to You,” “Tear It Down,” and “Shotgun” for a bonus EP, they’d have another high watermark to add to their already impeccable discography. Instead, Hot Thoughts is just as its title says: an album that leaves fans wondering what could have been.
Chandler Copenheaver is a junior majoring in Public Relations and minoring in Civic and Community Engagement. To contact him, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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