Essential New Music: Spoon’s “Hot Thoughts”

The members of Spoon are masters of playing what’s not there. They have explored how space can sharpen an arrangement by snapping everything into high relief and emphasizing the beat, whether rock ’n’ roll swagger, slinky funk or Motown bounce. Britt Daniel and Jim Eno established this aesthetic on 2001’s Girls Can Tell after two albums of Wire-y rock, and with a variety of bass and keyboard players have managed to reinvent and reconfigure ever since, with unerringly rewarding results. Their minimalistic approach makes the choice to work with producer Dave Fridmann surprising. Fridmann is a maximalist, known for layering Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev albums with kaleidoscopic, psychedelic density. He worked on four tracks on 2014’s They Want My Soul, and he returns to produce, with the quartet, all of Hot Thoughts, the ninth Spoon full-length.

The extra oomph in the drums and the airy swooshes in the background of “I Ain’t The One”—a kind of rewrite of Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe”—are probably Fridmann’s doing, and they lend sonic heft without distracting. That light touch is emblematic of Hot Thoughts: While the end of “Tear It Down” briefly veers into a psychedelic coda and instrumental closer “Us” is primarily a reverb-enhanced sax solo, most tracks stay true to Spoon’s sharp, clear, punchy style, just juiced up, especially with Alec Fischel’s staccato keyboards.

Daniel’s lyrics are, as usual, often accusatory, and although they sometimes explicitly address an ex-lover (“First Caress”), in early 2017 Trumpist America it’s hard not to hear some lines as political: “Let them build a wall around us/I don’t care, I’m gonna tear it down” (“Tear It Down”); “You and me dreamin’ ‘bout full medical and dental” (“You Brought A Shotgun”); “When the mood of the era’s gone/Everybody’s failing me, even my ma/And the words get stuck on the tip of my tongue/Feeling cut off from everyone” (“Do I Have To Talk You Into It”). “Hot Thoughts” itself is about lust, but the album, fun though it is, also burns with anger and tension. It’s another way Spoon throws into sharp relief what’s there—and what’s not.

—Steve Klinge