There is a problem with longevity. Unless you’re Bowie, you’ll run out of things to say, or at the very least interesting ways to say it. Spoon, who’ve been rolling on for over two decades, seem to have finally reached that point. It’s been a long time since Kill the Moonlight, Gimme Fiction and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga graced our shelves. Now they’re on their ninth LP and the strain shows. Hot Thoughts isn’t bad, it’s perfectly serviceable. It hits all the target a record of this ilk should. Britt Daniel’s distinctive yelp is still offset by some killer grooves and experimental instrumentation choices. You can dance to it, you can feel sad to it. It is exactly what you’d expect from the band, and therein lies the issue. The whole thing passes you by without making an impression. It’s pleasant when it’s there but you’d struggle to take away anything more than one or two of the quite intriguing nuggets that dotted throughout.
To stress, this isn’t terrible by any meaningful definition. You could pull several cuts from this and find that they achieve the same aim with an admirable, workmanlike quality. On the one hand, you have songs, like the titular opener, adequately filling the niche that Spoon have carved, built around a great little hook. It also features a breakdown in its bridge that fits like a glove and adds a lot to the song. In a similar vein are tracks like ‘Tear It Down’. While it does sound a bit like The Hoosiers, it does a very good job. It’s twitchy and constantly in motion, yet it manages to imbue this quiet sense of melancholy. The same kind of trick that James Murphy excels in. On the other end of the spectrum is something like ‘I Ain’t The One’. This is a decent stripped back ditty, driven by Daniel’s voice and an electric piano. It swells and recedes at various points, but never loses its footing and goes too far off the rails. The true masterstroke here is a gentle minimal backbeat which gives it a genuine pulse and sense of urgency. They’re each solid pieces, which offer enough meat to sate fans, but don’t really do more than that.
Mostly you’re left feeling a bit let down. There are songs that don’t work as well as they need too. Take ‘Shotgun’. This should be them firing on all cylinders, but instead, it comes across like a Modest Mouse B-Side. What’s so disappointing about Hot Thoughts is the lack of any honest experimentation or growth. There is one song, ‘Us’, that tries to play around with the formula. It’s an instrumental, lacking an obvious structure and fuelled by horns, bells, and thundering drums. This feels like Spoon seeing how far they can push people’s expectations while under this moniker. But the flaw here is that it’s the last track on the album and it doesn’t fit in with its peers. Rather than feeling like some grand statement, it feels more like an afterthought that might be nice to close the album on. This is a by the numbers release from a band who have made much better. If they’ll be able to make much better again remains to be seen. Will Murphy