Hot Thoughts is the second album Spoon have released since their “hiatus” of 4 years after 2010’s Transference. After that album received only positive reviews, and not overwhelming praise (as they had become accustomed to), the band took a break to pursue other projects, most notably Britt Daniel and Alex Fischel teaming up with Dan Boeckner to form Divine Fits. They returned in 2014 with They Want My Soul, which seemed like a reaffirmation of their songwriting prowess; 10 relatively straight forward pop-rock songs each following the rubric of strong verses and choruses, with sing-along lyrics and relatable stories. Spoon have always been a studio band, and while They Want My Soul certainly made use of the studio in ways that most bands wouldn’t have the wherewithal to consider, it seems that Hot Thoughts is Spoon really going all-out on the production front, resulting in their most technical album since 2007’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga.
The warm reception to They Want My Soul seems to have given the Texans the confidence and license to go all out on their whims. Hot Thoughts certainly aims to be more cerebral than its predecessor, often eschewing typical songwriting traits in favour of more unexpected musical turns. The title track opens the album emphatically, bringing together the production wizardry and their pop prowess in the most effective way. Within minutes of the album’s opening we’re delivered flickering bells glistening around the main riff, and Britt Daniel’s trademark howl is unleashed early on, as if the titular hot thoughts are truly scorching his mind.
This almost juvenile attitude towards love and attraction is recurring throughout the most bombastic parts of the album, and it’s the attention to detail with studio bells and whistles that lifts the songs from mere amusements into something multi-dimensional and sparkling. ‘WhisperI’lllistentohearit’ hints at a closeness between lovers, and the song shifts midway when the guitar starts revving up, as if it is aurally accelerating, like our protagonist’s heart-rate increasing. Daniel finds “words get stuck on the tip of [his] tongue,” in ‘Do I Have To Talk You Into It’, where the band sets out a militaristic march that turns from austere to revelatory as Fischel’s piano gradually finds new planes on which to twinkle. Britt’s coming over a little shy on the flirtatious ‘Can I Sit Next To You’, where pitch-shifted vocals and a sumptuous drizzling of synthesized strings take the song into unexpected realms. When he gets a little testy on ‘I Ain’t The One’ we sense the sinking of his soul through the subtle details added to the atmosphere, like the air is being sucked out of the room. On all these songs the apparent uncertainty of the lyrics is belied by the confidence shown in their extremely creative musical composition.
Hot Thoughts also features some of Spoon’s most directly dance-leaning tracks to date. Both ‘First Caress’ and ‘Shotgun’ are constructed upon four to the floor rhythms and the songs never break out of that stride. Neither of these songs quite take off in the way that you’d expect a Spoon song to, but when you’ve got an impassioned singer like Daniel leading the way you’re still invested. And, despite their rigid structures, the band still finds ways to use the studio and their playful musicality to craft and imbue the songs with intriguing sounds and shapes.
As mentioned at the top, Hot Thoughts seems to be Spoon’s attempt to make a truly cerebral album. This is an opinion justified not only by the idiosyncratic production techniques in the pop songs, but also by the two tracks that are the most extreme departures for the band. Ending side one is ‘Pink Up’, a neon-lit synth crawl that oozes along like a snake slithering through a desert at night, its scales twinkling in the moonlight. Daniel’s lyrics are few, and the second half of the song is entirely instrumental. Spoon go full-on ambient for closing track ‘Us’, which foregoes vocals and a rhythm entirely. Instead, Spoon have composed a track that features blooms of saxophone billowing out like red smoke, artfully spare percussion, field recordings of rain and a delicate recurrence of the synth melodies that illuminated ‘Pink Up’. It’s a singular song in Spoon’s catalogue and shows that the band, 9 albums in, are always striving to push themselves.
Hot Thoughts might not be as consistently hit-packed as some of Spoon's most loved albums, but it certainly makes a fine new addition to their mighty catalogue. Through their lyrics they tap into simple, universal themes of love and frustration, but through their fastidious work on production they’re also able to transport the listener – to “a side street in Shibuya,” or a “train to Marrakesh,” or place you “under Tennessee skies.” Overall Hot Thoughts doubles down on what we already knew: that Spoon are a band always looking to push themselves, a fact that seems to be getting more acute with each passing album, and it should be celebrated.