Both in terms of the quality and style of their music, Austin-based indie rock band Spoon are widely considered one of the most consistent bands in contemporary rock music. The albums released in the mid-2000s that saw the group rise to commercial and critical prominence, such as Kill the Moonlight, Gimme Fiction and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, are rather straightforward in their appeal, simply displaying solid songwriting, colourful arrangements and spotless production, fortifying Spoon’s position as one of the most significant rock bands of the decade. Now, roughly two and a half decades into their career, the Texan four-piece continues to release dynamic rock records with successful singles, all rooted within their usual indie and art rock idiom. The group’s latest album, Hot Thoughts, further reinforces Spoon’s ability to produce consistently high-quality material, but also exhibits the most significant stylistic shift of their career thus far, albeit a limited one. Nevertheless, the deeper cuts on this new album certainly see Spoon take some risks and foray into some new ideas for the band, which is certainly refreshing and makes for one of their most creatively diverse records to date. This being said, whilst the quality of Hot Thoughts is on par with much of the band’s previous material, this largely arises from the cuts that are more typical of the band, as this album has yielded some of their best singles in quite some time. Therefore, overall, Hot Thoughts is another impressive addition to Spoon’s discography and one of the most important releases for the group in recent memory. Whilst the more experimental tracks are not quite as polished as Spoon’s usual animated and glossy indie rock sound, the very attempt at such a change of pace is admirable, and, with more focus, such stylings could be incorporated in future material to a greater degree of cohesion and success.
The impression given by the singles from Hot Thoughts alluded towards another album in Spoon’s usual style, with many of these tracks being amongst the band’s best since the 2000s. The lead single from this new album, the opening title track, reflects the lively and exuberant grooves and arrangements that recur across much of the group’s material. This track is beautifully textured, with lead singer Britt Daniel’s erratic, staccato vocals coming across as buoyant and impassioned, aptly reflecting the lyrical tone of the song, whilst the instrumental arrangement is incredibly indulgent, making great use of stuttering strings arrangements, clicky guitar licks and even a glockenspiel as the song nears its climax. Whilst as rudimentary as much of Spoon’s compositions in terms of song structure, the title track’s solid groove, colourful timbre and effective use of dynamics that build it up to an explosive conclusion all make for a strong case regarding the band’s ability to produce ravishing tracks without needing to reinvent the wheel. The album’s other single, Can I Sit Next to You, is successful for similar reasons, with the bouncy bass drum hits and cliché claps being undeniably fun, despite their triteness. This song is also a prime example of why it’s almost impossible to talk about Spoon without mentioning their dexterity at crafting solid, infectious grooves, with the sprightly, syncopated groove created by the duelling guitars and poppy bass riff being as brazenly catchy as ever for the band. Again, there is no shortage of instrumental decadence on Can I Sit Next to You that is played for a vibrant and almost campy aesthetic, particularly thanks to the fluttering piano stabs during the verses and the glitchy synths that swoop in over the instrumental breaks. Indeed, there has never been a point in Spoon’s discography wherein they risked upsetting their fans, and the bulk of the main body of Hot Thoughts provides ample material that will please the band’s dedicated followers no end and further reinforces their position as a group who can consistently assemble spotless indie rock tunes.
Of course, as previously mentioned, whilst the number of tracks on Hot Thoughts that genuinely broaden Spoon’s stylistic scope is small in number, their very existence makes this album perhaps the group’s most noteworthy in recent memory. What’s more, considering that the singles released leading up to the album’s release and the first handful of tracks on the album suggested no noticeable changes for the band, the impact of a song like Pink Up, which appears halfway into the tracklisting, is made all the more outstanding. I mean outstanding in the sense that such cuts are incredibly prominent in the context of the record as a result of just how much of a change of pace they are, with the results, whilst refreshing, being somewhat lacklustre in certain regards. Pink Up, for instance, is far more meditative than much of Spoon’s usual output, with the main melody of the track being driven by some subtle keys and a smooth vibraphone. Daniel’s vocals, too, are less punchy than usual, with the singer instead opting for a more wispy delivery as to add to the contemplative atmosphere of the track. However, this highlights what is arguably the Achilles’ heel of this composition, which is that it seems to be so heavily focussed on its dreamy aesthetic that the songwriting takes a bit of a backseat. This is even more notable given that Pink Up is the longest cut on the record at nearly six minutes in length, but its duration isn’t exactly justified, with the structuring of the song being rather loose and thus engendering some passages that drag on slightly without an obvious pay-off. Be that as it may, the moody atmosphere of this track is crafted rather well, and the fact that Spoon still manage to incorporate some of their usual groovy rhythmic stylings is particularly impressive, so Pink Up is, ultimately, a demonstration that the band could certainly come through with some successful stylistic detours should they choose to hone their approach to a more focussed extent. However, what is by far the most prominent shift in tone on the entire record is the closing track, Us, which almost entirely abandons all of the musical sensibilities upon which the band has built their sound. This piece is somewhat of an avant-garde ambient composition, with the main body of the song being carried by two duelling saxophones that switch between some smooth, jazzy melodies to some free-form wailing, as the crashing and erratic drums thrash around with little rhythmic structure to speak of. Once again, whilst Us is an undeniably bold excursion for Spoon, its effectiveness is up for debate, with much of the track coming across as a glorified, spacey drone jam that was included for the sake of variety or to pad out the album’s runtime slightly. That’s not to say that these explorative pieces don’t convey any good ideas, however, rather they seem to lack the immaculate cohesion of the tracks that adhere to Spoon’s usual stylings and make them one of the strongest bands in indie rock.
Ultimately, Spoon’s reputation as one of the most reliable and consistent rock bands from the past couple of decades is only fortified by the strong and infectious grooves of this album’s singles, as well as tracks like WhisperI’lllistentohearit and Shotgun, with many of these songs encapsulating the best elements of the band that have cemented their name as a key contributor to contemporary rock music. This being said, the record’s experimental side perhaps hints at a desire to broaden their artistic scope slightly, particularly given that Pink Up seems to be Spoon’s attempt at reconciling some of their usual stylings with a myriad of ideas that are yet to have been explored by the group. Although the results, as they appear on Hot Thoughts, are far from perfect and are most definitely not the immaculate songs for which Spoon are known, there is certainly an awareness of and appreciation for the styles that the group try their hand at on display. As such, a heightened perception of how is best to incorporate these new ideas would surely make for a more actualised rendition of what the group seems to be aiming for on these songs. Nonetheless, if there existed any doubts regarding Spoon’s creative capabilities, Hot Thoughts is the album that should put such doubts to rest.
The Vinyl Verdict: 7/10