In their review for Spoon’s last outing — 2014’s still-excellent “They Want My Soul” — Rolling Stone wrote that “no failed electronic experiment […] has sullied [Spoon’s] run.” Which is hilarious, because the band’s newest album, “Hot Thoughts,” might be considered an electronic experiment, but certainly not a failed one. “Hot Thoughts” introduces splashes of electronica and psychedelia to Spoon’s well-established sound, yielding an album unlike anything they’ve ever done before.
A note on what they had done before: Few bands had as good a track record as Spoon did throughout the 2000s. Most of the ones that did — Radiohead, Animal Collective and Wilco, to name a few — revamped their sound from album to album; Spoon, on the other hand, tapped into a sound that was simple, practically bare-bones and irresistibly catchy, and they perfected that sound over the course of four of the decade’s most critically beloved albums. (Pitchfork, for what it’s worth, put three of them — “Girls Can Tell,” “Kill the Moonlight” and “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga” — in their top 100 albums of the 2000s.)
And then, on “They Want My Soul,” Spoon started to flesh out that bare-bones sound. “They Want My Soul” ditched the dry, spacious production of Spoon’s previous recordings and embraced more complex sounds, especially on the four tracks the band co-produced with Dave Fridmann. The Flaming Lips, MGMT, and Tame Impala are all indebted to Fridmann’s particular brand of psychedelic knob-twiddling, raising the question: How would a Spoon album sound with Fridmann behind the console from the beginning?
To answer that question, it still sounds like a Spoon album, and a Spoon album sounds pretty damn good no matter who’s producing it. Vocalist Britt Daniel’s sexy rasp has been in lockstep with drummer Jim Eno’s airtight rhythm for the last eight albums, and that doesn’t change on the ninth. The title track (and lead single) features Daniel and Eno in sync, cutting through the fog of synthesized strings and jingling bells. Follow-up single “Can I Sit Next to You,” in between Daniel’s come-ons and Eno’s drumming, is classic Spoon. It’s not an insult to say that it sounds like a rewrite of their 12-year-old hit “I Turn My Camera On” — in fact, it just goes to show how effortlessly Spoon can tap into their signature sound and write something that sticks in your head for days on end.
But elsewhere on “Hot Thoughts,” Spoon warps that signature sound into new shapes. “Do I Have to Talk You into It” and “First Caress” are percussive and propulsive tunes wrapped in Fridmann’s swirling psychedelia. It’s hard to imagine any other band than Spoon writing them, but it’s also hard to imagine how Spoon would’ve recorded these songs on an earlier album. And then there’s “Pink Up” and “Us,” which stretch the Spoon sound to its furthest extent. The experimentation on the former yields a track unlike anything the band has done thus far, and it’s stellar; “Pink Up” is six minutes of constant forward motion, aided by vibraphones, steel drums, and heavily-processed vocals that fade in and out of the hazy production. “Us,” on the other hand, is something of a reprise of “Pink Up,” but the production feels more adrift than spaced-out, with a saxophone braying in the distance. It’s Spoon’s first instrumental track, and it suffers a bit without Daniel’s presence. I can take it or leave it.
Spoon has always specialized in rock songs you can dance to, but “Hot Thoughts” is their first album that you could classify as “dance-rock.” In fact, Spoon is only the latest much-beloved indie act to incorporate dancefloor rhythms: Arcade Fire’s “Reflektor,” Belle and Sebastian’s “Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance,” Tame Impala’s “Currents.” But “Hot Thoughts” still leans heavier on rock than dance, and is less a departure from Spoon’s established sound than the three above albums were for their respective artists. Like I said above, it’s still a Spoon album, and it sounds pretty damn good.
If nothing else, “Hot Thoughts” is just another great album in Spoon’s enviable winning streak. There are few bands today as reliable as Spoon, who have delivered the goods on everything they’ve released for the better part of two decades. Not that you should be surprised; when a band is as great as Spoon is, you can count on them to put out consistently great albums. Don’t keep us waiting for the next great one, boys.
Contact Jacob Nierenberg at jhn2017 ‘at’ stanford.edu.