There has been a trend among aspiring indie-rockers of using rainbow colors to signal youthful optimism and blissful psychedelic confusion. So maybe to the uninitiated (who is uninitiated at this point?) the cover of Spoon’s new album might look like something synthy, fun and perky. But the moment you dive into the multi-chrome skull, you realize oh right, you’re listening to the kings of lean, sinewy pop-rock. Any of the high-school theater antics of their younger descendants are stripped off with paint thinner and chased away by Britt Daniel and his bone-dry voice.
Hot Thoughts is a well-thought out album with a few new ingredients to differentiate it from previous albums and place it perfectly into the band’s evolution. Produced by indie-rock legend Dave Fridmann, described by MOJO Magazine as “The Phil Spector of the alt-rock era”, Fridmann produced the band’s previous album, They Want My Soul, elements of which are all over Hot Thoughts. There are moments where Daniel’s voice sounds positively gentle in a way that I can’t remember ever hearing.
The album is structured so that there are songs that I might call “classic” Spoon songs woven around a few real outliers. The title track starts off the album with a stinky, almost ugly disco feel, pretty consistent with the direction Spoon had been taking. A little bit more keyboards than had been typical through the middle of the band’s career, but the same gritty, sneering vocal style and aggressive, minimal guitar.
But the second track, “WhisperI’lllistentohearit”, introduces a slightly different version of Britt Daniel and Jim Eno, with a lead vocal that’s comparatively soaked in delay and drums that sound live and wild, less like the gated, tight drums of They Want My Soul. For that album, they took inspiration in part from Dr. Dre’s 2001, and for this one it sounds more like they’ve taken some cues from Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska and Born In The USA. There’s a moment in the middle of “WhisperI’lllistentohearit” where Daniel’s voice takes on a breathy falsetto in a brand new way.
The alternation holds true through the album, with the strange, ethereal “Pink Up” as one of my surprise favorites. With a long, quiet introduction and a slew of reversed vocals in the middle, it sounds very un-Spoon in its composition even though the attitude (and even the hard-to-understand title) is vintage Spoon.
Spoon doesn’t need to reinvent pop music, and they don’t really want to. But they will never deny that they want to succeed. That’s what’s driven them through label disputes and lineup changes and moves across the country. For this album, it feels like Spoon took what was rightfully theirs with a massive subliminal marketing campaign around single “Can I Sit Next To You”, which they placed as background music for Jimmy Kimmel and Stephen Colbert’s shows as well as boarding music for American Airlines, which I think is possibly more incredible than any of the music on the album. But, again, for Spoon, that isn’t an insult.
Spoon is firmly in their stride right now, taking small liberties while simultaneously digging deeper into their now 25-year old groove. Britt Daniel sings on Hot Thoughts, “I took time off of my kingdom,” and it seems tongue in-cheek, but I think Daniel knows that he has a kingdom, and it is on this album that he shows he is in complete control. The vacation is over.
Catch Spoon on a massive 6-month world tour wherever you are.
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