Consistent. It’s the verb that has haunted Texas band Spoon for over a decade. A well-meaning compliment that, over time, has developed into an unwelcome caveat. The strength of their back catalogue almost works against them; we assume that we have already seen their best hand.
This may seem a little intuitive, but hear me out. The entertainment industry loves a good narrative. We are forever being told about a catalyst that led to artistic growth, of a stunning return to form. Stories of redemption, progression and revelation.
These narratives provide context and justification; they seek to demonstrate the importance of said work. Spoon’s story is too linear to suit this sort of approach. They arrived as critical darlings and plateaued there almost immediately, experimenting with their sound along the way, but never loosing their identity. As far as stories go, it isn’t particularly captivating.
But god damn can they make a captivating album.
In the battle against insurmountable expectation, Spoon have somehow proved themselves the victors with Hot Thoughts.
On Hot Thoughts they demonstrate that, despite almost 20 years making music, they are still at no risk of repeating themselves. The familiar elements that have contributed to their success are still there.
Britt Daniel’s emotional yelp is all swagger and rasp, his guitar jagged and angular. Jim Eno’s drumming provides the metronomic groove that everything builds from. Even producer Dave Fridman returns to add the sonic shimmer that elevated 2014’s excellent They Want My Soul.
Despite this familiarity, this record isn’t exactly business as usual for Spoon. Singles Hot Thoughts and Can I Sit Next To You flirt with funk in a way the band has hinted at before but never fully realised.
The results are killer, and if you were to offer them to the Arctic Monkeys, they would snatch at them with enough desperation to lose both hands.
Do I Have To Talk You Into It rides in on a slightly sinister and entirely sexy mix of stomping drums, staccato strings and piano, and just gets more raucous from there. By the end of the track the band breaks into short spells of improvised riffing, the loose energy contagious.
I Ain’t The One treads a more subdued path but I hesitate to call it a ballad. It elicits a strong emotional response, one that is undoubtedly melancholy, but musically that description doesn’t ring true.
There are no acoustic guitars and a steady disco beat provides the momentum until a delicious, distorted snare breaks things up. However, the sweetness that Daniel eventually manages to bleed from his voice during the refrain is gorgeous and a reminder of Spoon’s impressive range.
This scope is even more apparent on instrumental album closer Us. It’s a track that needs to be heard to be understood, but it provides an interesting footnote to an album which it sits in such stark contrast to.
Mournful saxophones, jazzy drum fills and atmospheric swells combine to create a beautiful tone piece which juxtaposes everything that came before it.
Hot Thoughts is the loosest, most experimental record of Spoon’s career. However it still feels unified, not only as work on its own, but as an addition to the band’s acclaimed discography.
A true indication of its quality is that I would recommend it as a great starting point for anyone looking to see what Spoon is all about. That said, I could say the same thing about any of their releases with an equally straight face.
And just like that, the word consistent barrels its way back into the conversation.
Hot Thoughts is out March 17.
A specialist and contributor to all things musical, Alistair Cairns is the frontman to Sydney-based rock band Wells.