Album review: Hot Chip ‘One Life Stand’ (EMI)

There are moments to treasure here, but a classic still somehow eludes them

Since their [a]Prince[/a]-loving gawk-hop 2004 debut ‘Coming On Strong’, complete with songs about Peugeot cruising, Hawaiian shirts and blasting out Yo La Tengo from the sub-woofers, [a]Hot Chip[/a] have gradually soldered their decreasingly geeky, increasingly sophisticated dance-pop onto the nation’s hearts. No small thanks, of course, to the fact that the London five-piece have on more than one occasion showed that, whether it’s painstakingly made on Joe Goddard or Alexis Taylor’s laptops between tea breaks, or in a studio with proper buttons and everything, their knack for a ridiculously catchy pop hook is as deeply entrenched as their love of German techno and obscure Arthur Russell records. Little wonder, then, that [a]Kylie Minogue[/a]’s people were once interested in signing them up to toast some beats for the diminutive pop smiler prior to the release of their 2008 album ‘Made In The Dark’.

The rumour mill may have gone haywire that time, but these days the Kylie connection is as much consigned to history as the penny-farthing. Joe long ago became so passively amused by the music press’ obsession with the Minogue story (guilty…) that he ended up telling journalists it was actually Kylie who had written a song for Hot Chip, complete with farmyard animal sound effects.
Today the band are far from within grasping distance of those gold hotpants, yet an unlikely but common ground between the showgirl and the library monitors does remain. Though Hot Chip’s laser-sparked, percussion-clatter live shows have proved a spectacular, euphorically honed draw for years, just as it doesn’t take much more than mouthing “Nah nah nah, nah nah nah nah-nah” to summarise Kylie’s output, it’s Hot Chip’s equally overbearing handful of bangers/hits/setlist-dominating tuuuunes that define their popularity beyond the trendies. That subtle tinkle that heralds the opening bars of ‘Over And Over’, or the quick-punch “Do it do it do it do it do it do it do it now” of ‘Ready For The Floor’ – one shimmer of each is enough to send a hangar-full of hands springing up into the air like flick-knife blades.

But Hot Chip are, actually, so much more than this – their albums offer myriad deft, sparkly treats, not just mere filler beyond the singles. To reduce them to their biggest songs would overlook the introspective comedown ballad element that has seen them segue their beautifully tender ‘In The Privacy Of Our Love’ into Prince’s ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ to close their live shows. But again, these moments, from the heart-slaying ‘Made In The Dark’ title track to that album’s pavement-rush ode to Wetherspoons, ‘Out At The Pictures’, are still just untethered moments – nuggets that start to split at the skin when stretched across a full-length.

Three albums down the line with ‘Made In The Dark’, the band were still no closer to making that dance-infused classic we were begging them to; their ‘Sound Of Silver’ (which Chip man Al Doyle played on) or even ‘XTRMNTR’ that would push the niggling suspicion that they are, genre be damned, simply one of the best bands in the UK from the back of our minds to the forefront of the nation’s consciousness.

‘One Life Stand’, though full of the reasons why this band are undoubtedly one to treasure, is cause for a fourth slamming of the fist onto the table with frustration – and now our knuckles are starting to bleed a bit. Again, they’ve got a new ‘Over…’ or ‘Ready…’ – the spectacular title track and lead single you will have heard already. That snoopy, throbby intro that teasingly stretches beyond a minute before dropping into Alexis Taylor’s most subtly anthemic chorus yet. Their best song ever.
More golden bullets for the chamber are ‘Hand Me Down Your Love’, with urgent rave-y piano, creeping closer ‘Take It In’ – dreamy ecstasy chorus and all – and opener ‘Thieves In The Night’, boasting the kind of pulsy build made for ekeing out that last five minutes of chemical heart-swelling with your MP3 player on the back of the night bus home.

The bangers, the moments, the nuggets. Peaks huge enough to make your neck hurt when looking up at them (while fumbling around to boot away the woeful ‘Slush’. Think Robson & Jerome go electro-pop). But, as before, there are too many anchors on their ankles. Goddard’s ‘Brothers’ – a mid-paced ode to his siblings that, despite somewhat heartfelt references to boozing and Xbox sessions with his bros, just comes across as cringey as the Redknapp family’s Wii advert. Or ‘I Feel Better’, a near house miss that leaves you yearning for [a]Calvin Harris[/a]’ rave outro to ‘Holiday’ at full volume to satisfy the half-rush.

The maths are frustrating. Two years since the last album, five members with wildly varying tastes and talents, enough ammo to blast out two solo albums on the side, and they still can’t quite make
10 essential tracks in a row.

If the tone of disappointment seems over-dramatic it’s only because we’re so convinced of what Hot Chip are capable of. ‘One Life Stand’ does have some of the best songs of the year on it. But, again, waiting for Hot Chip to make that classic album is a bit like waiting for an alcoholic parent to arrive at your birthday party. There’s a kind of unconditional love that’ll keep you hoping every time one comes around, but there may be a point where you have to accept that it’s just never going to happen.

Jamie Fullerton

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Click here to get your copy of Hot Chip’s ‘One Life Stand’ from the Rough Trade shop.