A Bath Full Of Ecstasy (Domino)
A bath full of ecstasy is brilliantly two-sided, or double joking, as an album title for Hot Chip. Within it is captured something of the duality that’s long been there within the band’s electro-pop mission, though I’d hesitate to call it a dichotomy as that might suggest contradictory impulses from these smart, inventive folks.
They’ve never been anything like makers of full-on bangers, and never easily categorised as an unequivocally “up” band, yet still dancing has been a natural state while listening to them, and warmth has been a feature of their emotional base. They were more the hug drug than the pinging pills version you could say.
At the same time, even before they started singing about being middle aged types with middle aged types things on their minds (that is, like me and a good portion of their audience) they not only sang about small things and regular lives, they looked like the kind of blokes who wouldn’t mind a hot bath on a Saturday night and maybe a nice crime drama before bed - when really they would sneak out to the club later.
The story this time might be told in two blocks of songs, at either end of the record.
With Melody Of Love and Spell, the album opens with that club in mind, two smoothly activated movers with different attitudes at first but in fact similar motivations, and then the title track, brings you to that alternative Saturday night.
Melody Of Love pulses with an early ‘90s momentum and the invocation that “all you need to hear is moving in the air”, and after a slowly twinkling introduction there’s a rising tide of optimism, a leaning in and a bit of gospelising, to pull “you” out of isolation and into the crowd.
Spell kicks a bit harder and a bit darker and a bit longer: the keyboard bass rolling through, the sprinkled synths pinging off that solidity, the occasional vocoder-ed vocals backing up the doubts in the lower voice of Alexis Turner. The request to “give me your trust” is balanced by the knowledge that “now I feel your curse”, so that while at heart the message remains the same as Melody Of Love - come out from behind the wall – this time optimism has paid the price.
But soaked in rich synthesisers and a full bodied sound that is equal parts ‘70s LA and ‘90s Paris, carried on more a floating than a pushing groove, Bath Full Of Ecstasy brings the issue back to who you can trust. “I’ve got the cure,” says the tweaked voice of Turner; lie back and feel it, says the sonic bed.
After the easy play of Echo, which is fine but without real grip, and, Hungry Child, which looks like it may be reaching for controlled euphoria but falls more into pleasant feeling, the album resets.
Positive bubbles with all the Pet Shop Boys feels, droll but joyful, fluid underneath and yet punctuated with clever drop-ins, and Turner and Joe Goddard urging a unity; Why Does My Mind edges past that positivity with intimations of melancholy in the swirl behind the voice as much as the vocals themselves; then Clear Blue Skies is a reassessment, a balancing, a gently enwrapping wave reminiscent of the quasi-primitive electronics, low impact percussion and deceptively bare emotion of Brian Eno’s St Elmo’s Fire.
After this triple-hit, the album’s closing No God – a paean to the lift and satisfaction found in the love of someone who counts for more - reminds us that there doesn’t have to be a division of labour or result here. In its warm arms and its soothing tones, in its tempo rise to that of a car in joyful cruising and playful percussion, it is both Saturday night in and Saturday night out.
A bath full of ecstasy you might say.