In parts of Hot Thoughts it seems like Spoon are angling to write the title theme for the next James Bond flick.
Hot Thoughts didn’t make sense until I took a jog through a humid Texas suburb. Sure, the melodies were delightful, the production smooth, plenty of quotable one-liners, but Spoon’s most recent effort didn’t hit me like past albums until I was sweating on the sidewalks of Denton, Texas. Part of this comes from Spoon’s origin in Austin. Their time in the capital helped them create a sound that evoked food trucks and melting tar. But, beyond that, as I wheezed my way across a park, covered in sweat, Hot Thoughts’ feverish logic came into view.
Spoon’s last record, They Want My Soul, seemed like a statement album. As an impossibly consistent band, 2010’s Transference was branded “good,” not “great.” It’s still an exceptionally underrated album, but They Want My Soul busted out as one of their all-time best in a discography filled with excellence. Now that they’ve firmly planted themselves as not being on the decline, they decided to rip loose with Hot Thoughts. Former Mercury Rev bassist Dave Fridmann produced parts of They Want My Soul, and he’s jumped on for the full album here. Fridmann’s previous knack for a shiny, polished, big sound comes through in force, with Spoon sounding more cinematic than ever. The title track proves that from the opening notes, with glockenspiel tinkling around razor sharp guitars and Britt Daniel’s moan. Indeed, in parts of Hot Thoughts it seems like Spoon are angling to write the title theme for the next James Bond flick.
There was always ramshackle glory in Spoon’s songs. Even on the sparkling They Want My Soul, “Let It Be Mine” juked and jived like it was about to break down into a clutter of finely played guitars. Thanks to Fridmann and a newly focused precision, Hot Thoughts has none of that. Ominous and melting synths play a much larger part then they have in the past.
“WhisperI’lllistentohearit” is infinitely less awkward than its title, all sweet anticipation over heartbeat keyboards backing up Daniel’s flirtation. “Come on, give me some spirit,” he beckons as the song explodes into a clapping drum line and fiery guitars. “Can I Sit Next to You” is another one in Spoon’s ever fabulous summer songs category, but the sweat here ain’t just from the weather. It’s maybe the first song from Spoon that could be rapped over, but the boys use the boom-bap beat to whisper more and more come-ons and, of course, let Daniel scream to his content over hallucinatory synths.
“Can I Sit Next to You,” in title at least, implies a bit of innocence, and Spoon deliver something strange and wonderful in their own lustful musings. With every song dripping in longing, Spoon seem to be reverted back to teenagers, where things seemed more taboo and, of course, much more exciting. Daniel comes off as a seducer and also seems on the edge of completely losing his mind. He’s as charismatic than ever, and he’s got a much more focused attention span on Hot Thoughts. His yowls and whispers from previous albums are still here, but they’ve all taken on a much more seductive edge. Hot Thoughts is all lust all of the time.
Daniel has always been the brain of Spoon, but drummer Jim Eno is the beating heart. And it’s never been clearer that Spoon has one of the finest, funkiest, backbones in rockdom with Eno at its center. He gets to cut loose here more than he ever has, delivering the core of each song, with Daniel sloganeering and seducing over the top. He and bassist Rob Pope are arguably the most important part of Hot Thoughts. With less guitar work, Pope dictates the melodic direction and joins Eno in propelling each song to a frenzied state. The poppiest moment on Hot Thoughts is “Tear it Down,” which is all Eno and Pope. Pope’s slippery bass carries Daniel’s “na, na na”s with a chugging piano line that moves like a locomotive in time with Eno.
Hot Thoughts’ relatively lean run time and the addition of two relatively underwhelming tracks (“First Caress” and closer “Us”) makes sure that it doesn’t land in the upper echelon of great Spoon albums, but it has delivered some of their finest individual songs. The duo that preceded the album, “Hot Thoughts” and “Can I Sit Next to You,” are comfortably two of Spoon’s catchiest, and “WhisperIlllistentohearIt” matches both “The Ghost of You Lingers” and “New York Kiss” for sheer grandeur. But things get really interesting when you’re dealing with the weirder side of Hot Thoughts. “I Ain’t the One” is perhaps their starkest song ever and easily their saddest since “Everything Hits at Once.” The opening half minute is just Daniel and a growling keyboard, soundtracking his admissions of lost love. When the drums and bass finally do come rumbling in, they add an emotional punch to Daniel’s monologue. It’s absolutely deviating and shows a measure of restraint previously unseen in Spoon. “Pink Up” is even weirder and the best track on the album. This is where the James Bond soundtrack comparisons come up strong. A slinky marimba line straight out of a ’70s lounge record bounces its way over waves of percussion. Daniel doesn’t even come in until two minutes in, and even than his eerie vocals don’t focus on narrative, instead adding the ominous but entrancing mood. This might be the finest show of Eno’s talents, with layers upon layers of drums, shakers and cymbals all filtering over each other into a hypnotic loop. In an album full of songs about carnal wants, nothing feels as wonderfully sinful as “Pink Up.”
Hot Thoughts would probably just go down as another “good” album in a near flawless collection, but the shift in mood, lyrical content and a need to experiment at least makes it one of Spoon’s more interesting albums. Plus, who knew they could be this sexy? So let Spoon help you sweat your cares away.