Critical darlings take another smart, subtle and stylish step forward
Austin, Texas, veterans Spoon operate in a strange world, enjoying non-stop critical acclaim while being a thousand miles from actual stardom. Metacritic’s most well-reviewed band of the ’00s (ahead of Radiohead and The White Stripes, believe it or not), they’ve barely slipped up since forming in the mid-’90s. And every one of their records, from 2007’s anthem-packed ‘Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga’ to 2014’s more surrealist ‘They Want My Soul’, picks up on a trusty template set by the Britt Daniel-led group’s early work.
True to form, ninth album ‘Hot Thoughts’ is an extension of their slick signature – a source of envy for any act hoping to combine style with substance. Spoon are studio whizzes of the highest order and they continue to find smart, subtle ways of evolving. Daniel’s trademark dive-bar vocals are more smoke-stained than ever, glueing together rough-edged guitar lines and moody synths. Although they do little to break the mould, tiny progressions can be found everywhere – in ballad ‘I Ain’t The One’’s post-midnight glitz; ‘Pink Up’’s disorienting reverse vocals; and the opening title track’s razor-toothed guitar line. Lyrics might read like yer da’s gross diary (“Hot thoughts all in my mind and all of the time, babe”), but the frontman still manages to keep his cool.
It doesn’t always work, not least in ‘Shotgun’’s iffy mix of Nashville-ready instrumentals and a chugging house beat. On the flipside, ‘Do I Have To Talk You Into It’ sticks so stubbornly to the Spoon template it could be a discarded number from any of their previous records. But the best indication of where the band are today comes in closer ‘Us’. Essentially an elongated horn parp backed by the odd clattering drum part, it doesn’t exactly sound great on paper. But somehow they manage to dress up a mad idea in stylish clothes. Not many bands can make dogged experimentalism easy for consumption, but Spoon are experts in the game. ‘Hot Thoughts’ is more evidence of their serious knack for, ahem, spoon-feeding weird ideas.