It’s been over 20 years since their debut album Telephono was released in 1996, and they have done nothing but look forward ever since. I have no problem saying that Spoon have released some of my generations best rock records, and they’ve done it continually on their own terms. Through a major label fumble that would have broke a lesser band, Spoon have built their sound on a steady diet of Wire, The Jam, the Kinks, the Pixies, and Brill Building pop. The result is something completely, well, Spoon.
Girls Can Tell was the album that, for me, officially started what would be their winning streak and Kill The Moonlight was the defining indie rock album of the 2000s. Britt Daniel’s white boy soul vocals and sparse, angular guitar work combined with Jim Eno’s powerful, clean drumming created a magic that producer Mike McCarthy harnessed in the studio.
From there the world was Spoon’s oyster.
Each album that followed redefined and honed their sound. Gimme Fiction, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Transference, and They Want My Soul all had something to offer and built on what came before. One thing each of these records have in common is a gradual lean into groovier territory. “I Turn My Camera On” and “My Mathematical Mind” to “Don’t You Evah” and “Eddie’s Ragga” to “Who Makes Your Money” and “Nobody Gets Me But You”, all of these tracks showed a much more groove-centric Spoon giving their dancier tendencies some play time. With 2014s They Want My Soul there was a push to mix the indie rock heartbreak of earlier records with a much more polished sound. The result was one of their most acclaimed albums yet. Now with the release of Spoon’s ninth album, the excellent Hot Thoughts, there seems to be no reason to believe Spoon can’t conquer the world at large.
“Hot Thoughts” was the first single released and it’s this opening salvo that seems to mix everything we’ve come to love about this Austin band, which includes Britt Daniel and Jim Eno, as well as Rob Pope and Alex Fischel. Dance-y rhythms with a touch of Stones-y flair all covered with an air of urgency. Daniel’s vocals seem to only get better year after year, and this year is no different. “WhisperI’lllistentohearit” is keyboard heavy, but in a 80s drama kind of way. There is guitar on this album, but it’s used sparsely and when engaged to great effect. There are some heavy Divine Fits vibes here, too. With the addition of Alex Fischel, that band’s keyboard player and Daniels’ bandmate, the comparison is not without its merits. This is not a bad thing, either. “Do I Have To Talk You Into It” is the most fun I’ve heard Spoon have on record in a long time, and it doesn’t hurt that the piano melody is pretty similar to Gimme Fiction’s “The Beast And Dragon, Adored”. “First Caress” is another dance-y number that gives you bonus points for indie rock and dance floor cred. “Pink Up” is a beautifully ornamented track that is pushed more by the music than vocals. It’s space-y vibes and jazzy tendencies is a new sound for Spoon and it works well.
The album is produced by Dave Fridmann, who sat in on a few songs with the guys on They Want My Soul. Here, his presence is known but his “in the red” production style doesn’t define the sound of Hot Thoughts. If anything, the guys just use it as a new color to fill in the lines of their already stellar songs. This seems like a great fit for all.
“Can I Sit Next To You” is a full-on come on in song form. Daniel puts his come hither falsetto to good use here, while “I Ain’t The One” feels like a theme for complete heartbreak(it’s use in the season closer for Shameless was damn near perfect). It helps I’m a sucker for that Wurlitzer sound(and I might have a man crush on Britt Daniel.) “Tear It Down” could’ve been a b-side from the Gimme Fiction days. It’s sorta perfect. “Shotgun” sounds like Spoon got onto a “disco Kiss” kick for an afternoon. The result is this tight leather pants-wearing groove fest of a track. The album ends on a space-y jazz instrumental, which is again kind of a genius move.
Is Hot Thoughts Spoon’s best album? Not by a country mile. But guess what? 20 years in and Daniel and Eno are still redefining themselves each time out. They’ve got this tight knit crew after all these years that seem to have found the right amount of slick, weird, heartfelt, and funky that “get it”. Head back in the wayback machine to 1996. Look around the scene and find the music tastemakers at that time, then head back to 2017. Of that musical might, who’s still moving forward? Who’s still pushing and still vital? It’s a small group, and Spoon are at the forefront.