The geek shall inherit the earth! Jim Brackpool surveys Hot Chip’s triumphant 4th.
If, like the Ransom Note, the thought of even momentarily peeking out of Hipsterville and into Realityland has you sobbing and rocking in terror, it may well come as a surprise to learn that whilst you weren’t looking, Hot Chip have made a surreptitious, unsanctioned bid for the Big Time. AND pulled it off. Maybe it’s their everyman charm or the fact that they remain permanently in touching distance out on London’s DJ circuit, but believe it or not – Hot Chip have arrived. Is there another band that headlines massive festivals in fields, gets A-Listed on Radio 1, makes videos that 4Music can play in the daytime and gets NME, Mixmag, The Guardian and the style rags as equally frothy? Probably not – it’s the kind of cross market penetration most artists can only dream of.
Not that they’ve always looked at ease with it. At times it seemed like they were all too studiously attempting to straddle both the mainstream and the underground. How else to explain the nervy, downright confrontational ‘Shake A Fist’? What could have been a fairly forthright pop tune peppered with ungainly hipster cues. Or ‘Ready For The Floor’ and ‘One Pure Thought’? Both packed with gold plated pop hooks but scrunched up into unorthodox and downright awkward forms.
Mercifully, all such grievances are joyously swept aside on ‘One Life Stand’ their most concise and sparky outing to date. To compare it to their earlier work, it’s the recorded equivalent of one of those ‘De-Clutter Your Life’ type shows. Some clipboard wielding lifestyle tyrant may have bulldozed the studio shouting “What’s that squiggly noise doing there? Nothing! Get rid of it! Why is Speccy banging that bongo in that bit? It’s shit! Ditch it!”, but it’s worked: No longer do songs periodically wander off somewhere unattended, each hook is economically deployed, buffed, honed and fit for purpose and the resultant backings provide a gilt edged frame for a carousel of breezy lead vocals.
Take for example the stridently confident lead single ‘One Life Stand’; it’s little more than a strutting electro break, a huge, cock swinging bassline, some cheeky synth work and a grin inducing chorus. Ditto ‘Take It In’ which switches from clanging Detroit-lite into a vintage Pet Shop Boys mince. And ‘Hand Me Down My Love’ which pairs Motown style piano house with their most swoonsome, nay, downright soppy string part to date. Finally it seems they’re at ease emoting. Track 6 indeed is so heartfelt, they billed it as ‘Slush’. Thankfully though, amongst all the dewy-eyed sentiment, their trademark humour remains intact. And no more so than on ‘Brothers’ a paean to life on the road that boasts affecting couplets like “I will drink my fill, with my Brothers. And if one of us is ill then my Brothers, will wash over me” evoking the heartwarming image of the ‘Chip gathered around a toilet bowl carefully removing one of their brethren’s thick rimmed specs as he ralphs uncontrollably, or fussing over him in a bathroom, perhaps paper towelling his WKD streaked oversized cagoul.
Occaisionally though it feels like they’re still trying too hard, trying to cram as many hip reference points as possible into one album. There’s woozy Italo on the aforementioned ‘Brothers’, 90′s referencing bassline on ‘We Have Love’ and then the album’s weakest track, ‘I Feel Better’ which more than adequately sets out its stall with blingtastic orchestra hits, a skippity garage break and steel drums. By the time the auto-tuned vocal comes in you’ll be clenching your fists in rage roaring “RIGHT! YES! White guys doing UK R’n’B I GET IT! Very fucking clever!”
Some will even say that it’s all too poppy and that eschewing the idiosyncratic touches that made their earlier records so intriguing has left 2010 Hot Chip dull by comparison. But these people are idiots. Though its constituent parts, poppy as they may be, might sound all too familiar, right the way across ‘One Life Stand’ you’re never far from a bitter sweet key change, an eyebrow raising lead line, a curve ball chord sequence or an ostentatious harmony; Hot Chip’s innate musicality will win out and ‘One Life Stand’ will endure repeated plays long after other sugary pop thrills have lost their taste. It’s a life affirming triumph of a record.
<jim dot brackpool at gmail dot com>