Hot Thoughts (2017)
The funky dance grooves get pumped a little harder on Hot Thoughts, but there’s a lot more diversity here, too. “WhisperI’lllistentohearit” rides a cool new wave bass shift akin to Divine Fits and bandmate Dan Boeckner’s Operators, the title track bristles with a spiked disco, and “First Caress” sways and swaggers (with guest vocals from Sharon Van Etten). The polyrhythmic, vibraphone-driven “Pink Up” is an interesting sidestep, Daniel singing about being “on a train to Marrakech” over a percussive shimmy. Even the quieter, more open moments of the album feel more sinister than the muscular albums that preceded it. Take “I Ain’t the One”, a shadowy open highway tune that leaves Daniel spookily crooning out into the night, or “Shotgun”, a disco heart attack waiting to happen. The harmonizing saxophones and vibraphone puddles of closer “Us” are perhaps the biggest detour, a steaming oasis in the dark, arid, desolate desert that fades after five minutes of tense push and pull. Jim Eno and Britt Daniel have been the core of Spoon since the band’s foundation, but multi-instrumentalist Eric Harvey had been with the band for over a decade before leaving the band prior to this record.
It’s starting good, real good. It’s always the most exciting thing for the band to play new songs live.
The lyrics for “Tear It Down” happened a bit accidentally. I wrote that song with this lady in LA, a friend of mine named LP. She came up with the chorus melody, and she sort of wrote wordless syllables. I said, “What can fill in there?” And I just thought, well, “Tear it down.” I thought about the Marvin Gaye song “Tear It on Down”. The next thing we thought was we needed to write lyrics, and what were we going to be tearing down? Obviously, it would be a wall. Then as soon as I said that, I thought, “Uh-oh, this could be topical.” I knew what people would think about it. I think I thought for half a second, “Do we avoid that lyric because people will think it’s about the wall? No, I think we should just go for it. Let’s let it be about the wall.” To me, songs like “Don’t Make Me a Target” were poetically political. Not super direct. But that was definitely about our president. “The Underdog” was also a bit about that same character.
The song “Us” happened, as the best ones often do, a bit by accident. Somebody came in and they thought we were just going to do an intro to a song, and we decided to follow it instead. We played saxophone over the entire song, and then threw it away and just let it be the saxophones. It’s something that I couldn’t have planned, and I love that. A couple of years ago, when we were working on They Want My Soul, if something like this would have happened, I might have thought it was not the right time, or too out there or too much work. Working with Dave Fridmann helps. I knew that somehow we could turn that into a real piece, a soundscape.
I did want to have a lot of different vocals, a lot of different people singing on this record. I just kind of like that vibe. That’s something that … I don’t know … Prince would have done. He’d bring in Wendy & Lisa to sing, and it brought a whole different vibe to the song and a whole different depth to it.
It also affected the actual meaning. There’s the song “Can I Sit Next to You”, and one of the lyrics that I came up with was “Someday I’m going to get right.” Then the lyric right after it was “You are.” I was singing both lines, and to me the “You are” was a response to the first half. And so bringing these what we called “Robot Girls” in to sing that line kind of gave it a lot more oomph. It gave us some power. We wanted them to sound like robots. That’s what we called them. I said, “Can you sing like robots?” Specifically, that’s what we’re looking for.
I’ve been doing this a long time. I know when something feels right to me. That’s probably what makes every artist different, is what they feel to be good. Or god help you if you’re an artist who puts out something that you’re not really sure if it’s good. I would never do that. I think I would be surprised if we were sitting on the release date of our first record and somehow somebody played me this album. I would be very surprised. But sitting where I am now, it feels very natural. It seems like where we’ve been meaning to go. I’ve never been able to figure out how some things that I do capture the imagination of more people than others. It’s hard for me to know when that’s going to happen.