Hot Chip - In Our Heads
Pop would be nothing without it's loveable rogues, and the most interesting facet of Hot Chip's return is that, sometime in the last two years, they appear to have become the most loved of all. They've also apparently grown up, something they're happy to inform anyone who asks. "I don't know how to write a song about teenage heartbreak anymore" pleaded Joe Goddard in a recent interview. "It makes me happy to talk about some fundamentally good things." Those who were there taken in from the start by Coming On Strong's goofy and romantic sincerity would be forgiven for raising an eyebrow at such comments, but they needn't worry. The sentiments expressed here may be more #firstworldproblems than nudge-wink gangsta pastiche – remember "Driving in my Peugeot / 20-inch rims with the chrome now" – but such fustiness has yet to influence their music, which thankfully remains as playful as ever.
In fact, In Our Heads sees them wear such seriousness very lightly for a group whose stock-in-trade is channelling genres that fetishize money, bling, and a fame-hungry materialism. It's to their credit that the subversion of such subject matter towards themes of domestic bliss and monogamy – witness the servitude-celebrating "These chains around my heart complete me baby / I would not be free" – doesn't take precedence over their skills as pop curators and connoisseurs, a filter for a magpie mish-mash of sounds and styles that, five albums in, is now unmistakably theirs.
The ramshackle spontaneity that makes them such a compelling live act has been transplanted here to their exploration of pop's outer reaches; a treasure trove of the hidden or the underused that gives us the soft rock, prog-lite 'Now There Is Nothing', the bustling two-step of 'These Chains', and the 80's B-movie cheese of 'Don't Deny Your Heart'. Even the influence of their innumerable side- projects raises its head, 'Night And Day' taking it's cue from Goddard's The 2 Bears and Gabriel. It's a heady mix; add in the rambling, seven-plus minutes of mid-tempo house that is 'Flutes', and you're left gasping at the breadth and scope of their ambition.
Trouble is, it's that breadth that stretches In Our Heads, as an album, to near breaking point. Too many cooks, as the saying goes, and as a close- knit collaborative unit – they're on record as to how little they argue during recording – it's clear that everyone gets a say. Such civility, and the lack of a primus inter pares, has bled the coherence from their work, and leaves the album as less of an organic whole, more a series of disparate and disjointed moments. The lack of a standout spark of genius – a 'One Life Stand', or an 'Over and Over' – means there's nothing here for the material to group around, heightening the lack of a musical narrative.
At their most concise, the trick they've pulled off again and again is making music that's equally at home on the dance floor and the living room, and the last few years have seen them grow comfortably into their role as the nation's pop mad-hatters. In Our Heads is by no means a bad album, nor is it a regression. Pushing boundaries is what the best artists have always attempted, and I wouldn't imagine missteps like the Ninentendo-esque, retro tackiness of 'Ends of the Earth' will see them rest on their laurels any time soon. All the same, it's hard to escape the conclusion that this is, or should be, their moment, and that by hook or by crook, they've missed an opportunity to fully seize the acclaim and success they deserve. They've got the platform for greatness, and should be taking dead aim for the stars.
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