Spoon loses their cool on ‘Hot Thoughts’

April 10, 2017, 1:33 p.m.


Spoon loses their cool on 'Hot Thoughts'
Lead singer Britt Daniel performing with Spoon. (Kris Krüg, Flickr)

Spoons latest album opens with a quivering, uneasy synth on the title track, Hot Thoughts.It sounds a little like an extrapolation of the dreamiest take from their last LP, the song Inside Outoff of 2014s “They Want My Soul.” But within a few seconds, as singer Britt Daniels lyrics and the guitar kick in, hopes of this album providing room for Spoon to flesh out the otherworldly beauty of Inside Outdie away as the track turns into a pitch-down-the-plate clearly meant for modern rock radio. Hot thoughts meltinmy mind / Could be your accent mixing with mine,Daniel sings unconvincingly. Spoons sexiness has never been their selling point, which makes one wonder why this album seems to aim in that direction.

Its not like Spoon to craft as terrible a bridge as the one on Hot Thoughts(which includes the regrettable lines raise up my creatures / diamonds from space). Theres so much in the song that seems nonsensical and baroque — in a word, unnecessary. Theres nothing unique about that tendency in indie rock, but weve always expected — and received — more out of Spoon, the band that gave us the pared-down masterpiece that was 2002s “Kill the Moonlight.”

The third track, Do I Have to Talk You Into It,offers a ray of hope. The track is textbook Spoon: a simple, crisp drum part, those familiar repeated piano chords and the occasional intrusion of frenetic guitar. The half-warm, half-alienated tone the song takes is also classic — “Do I have to talk you into it?Daniel wonders, mixing coyness and fear. When I’ve known you such a long time / And we never had to act polite.It reads like a cross between The Nationals I Should Live in Salt,” with its depressed, alienated refrain of You should know me better than that, and Spoons own laid-back breakup track, Anything You Wantoff of 2001s “Girls Can Tell,” on which Daniel goodheartedly offers his ex a place to stay if she ever needs one, drawling, If theres anything you want, come on back cause its all still here / Ill be in the back room drinking my half of the beer.The track even has a nice twist at the end: glassy, crystalline synths come in after the bridge as the song twinkles out.

The next track, First Caress,likewise impresses with its backpedaling wah-wah synths, but Pink Upshows how little has come of all of Spoons experimentation — it sounds almost like a B-side from U2s self-indulgent “No Line on the Horizon” — and Can I Sit Next to Youhas Daniel trying to sound sexy again. I thought Spoon was too cool and too self-conscious for this kind of maneuver, which makes them sound like they should be playing after a Walk the Moon song on the radio. Despite an alienated synth part adding some depth to the track, theres no salvaging the minimalist, gritty cool Spoon claimed for themselves on “Kill the Moonlight.”

Whats happened to Britt Daniels songwriting? The title of the song I Aint the Oneis enough to indict it, and on Tear it Down,the lines Let them build a wall around us / I dont care, Ill tear it downsounds, if timely considering the Trump administration, cheesy nonetheless, while the na-na-na bridge is almost cringe-worthily unoriginal. Shotgun,if a bad song, is at least familiar in a genre of Spoon songs that are brash and urgent but not melodic or otherwise redeeming, like Rainy Taxioff “They Want My Soul.” The albums outro, Us,built off what sounds like the lonely saxophone of a subway busker, actually manages to create a convincing, if repetitive, soundscape out of horns — even if Radiohead has done it all before on “Kid A’”s The National Anthem.

The problems of this album all seem to stem from a change to the Spoon recipe made on their last album — ironically, it was originally a change for the better. Spoon had always been cool, but Inside Outfrom “They Want My Soul” proved they could be beautiful too.

But, having taken the electronic sound that made that song possible and having tried to craft an album out of it, the result is neither beautiful nor cool. Instead of making something as ethereal as Inside Out,theyve made an album of songs that, with few exceptions, either seem aimless or are altogether too much of this world — specifically, the rock top 40s. Heres hoping that Spoons next effort either resorts to the simple, crunchy guitars of the tried-and-true, or else do better justice to the promise of “Inside Out,” their most beautiful song to date.

It always makes me sad to write a bad review for a good band, but I suppose it was only a matter of time before Spoon — a group that has not done a bad album this millennium, and not for lack of trying — finally showed cracks in their armor.


Contact Nick Burns at njburns ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Nick Burns '18 is a history major from Ventura. He writes on rock music, the Greeks, contemporary politics, and literature for several campus publications. He also serves as Prose and Poetry Editor for Leland Quarterly, Stanford's literary review.

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