Hot Thoughts (Matador)
At this point in their life, some 20 years since forming in Austin it may be a bit late to do this but if Spoon were Australians I’d be suggesting a name change to Splayd, or I guess, spork.
If it wasn’t already clear on the way here, their ninth album, Hot Thoughts, confirms them as the kind of multi-function musical utensil which may confuse newcomers but becomes the one-of-these-will-serve-all-your-needs choices.
Spoon in extremis, Hot Thoughts is not one of anything but a kind of meeting house for pop and art rock, funk and indie rock, on-point scenesters and knowing veteran rock.
And for one glorious/ridiculous/shameless moment a direct reincarnation of Kiss – specifically I Was Made For Loving You.
Let’s go to that last one first, Shotgun, mainly because it feels at first quite silly, and Hot Thoughts is many things but silly is otherwise absent.
It starts with a rock disco beat soon joined by guitars riffing on repeat until you just know Paul Stanley is going to say “mmm, yeah”. Ooh, you’re already teetering on your stack heels and about to do that little hip shimmy Stanley did aren’t you?
Except it’s Britt Daniel not trying for sexy but rather a little aggravation. “When the matches burn into dust/Someone’s always gotta be sweeping them up,” he sings, offering, after his voice, the second hint that we’re not in pouty-lipped starman sexing you up territory.
Indeed, by the time the song ends Daniel has worked the fighting/gang metaphors hard and rather than telling the other person in this conversation that they could “feel the magic, something that drives me wild”, he’s stabbing out repeatedly, “you’re the one that went and brought a shotgun”.
By this stage of the album – Shotgun is the penultimate track - it kind of makes perfect sense that it is followed by something which might have come from the second side of David Bowie’s Low.
The instrumental, moody, jazz-meets-Berlin-on-a-post-drugs-recovery Us spends its time throwing saxophones and horns into the night sky like spotlights. Deconstructed drums scatter crumbs haphazardly, the sky envelopes the light and then sends it back via guitars taking an Edge-ish line – in effect closing the Brian Eno circle – and the album ends cryptically.
It’s hard to remember as the saxophone fades away that 42 minutes earlier the album had begun with the title track’s choppy little funk groove that tugged at the hips and then WhisperI’lllistentohearit whose deliberately cramped title matches the way a vamping synth mood, that threatens a build-to-explosion raver, segues into a probing, nervy bit of Montreal rock that is more claustrophobic than ecstatic.
Actually, often enough just when you think Hot Thoughts is going all out, whether to dance or to disturb, it deviates at the crucial moment.
Take a four-song sequence mid record. If First Caress feels like agitated, post-punk dance has settled in for the duration, then Pink Up which follows takes a more low-burbling Orbital route with voices set dreamier rather than tense.
But this song is superseded by Can I Sit Next To You where we’re in a mid ‘80s white boy funk realm, only to pull back to a definite indie rock lost-in-space feel in I Ain’t The One.
Try keeping your feet with that sequence.
If there is a fault here for Spoon it is that as interesting as all these moves are – and these are both individually fascinating and conceptually disconcerting in the best way – not a lot here engages the heart as well as the brain. Tear It Down comes close, but it’s a lonely existence for that slice of ‘70s pop rock.
These are hot thoughts but not necessarily hot emotions.
Still, even a Splayd/spork can’t do everything: that’s why you’ve got a full cutlery drawer/CD shelves.