[8 February 2010]
As good as One Life Stand is, it trashes a beautiful theory I had. You see, for their first three albums, Hot Chip’s recorded output bore an uncanny correspondence to New Order’s. Coming on Strong and Movement would both prove to be slightly underwhelming, somewhat misleading preludes to far more colourful and satisfying careers, while The Warning and Power, Corruption & Lies became the closest thing each band has to a consensus classic album by broadening their emotional range and making a more serious commitment to the dancefloor. And both Made in the Dark and Low-Life are unfairly underrated due to the variety of sounds and moods they contain (both are actually more cohesive than you might think). Sure, there are plenty of differences, but I was a little in love with the notion of one of my favourite dance bands of the ‘00s deliberately modeling their career after maybe the greatest dance band (emphasis on band, in both cases) of the ‘80s.
But if that theory suggests that Hot Chip were going to make their Brotherhood in 2010 (wrongfooting everyone by making a rock album), they’ve skipped ahead and made their Technique instead, and going to the disco suits the band to a T. One Life Stand is Hot Chip’s most kinetic album, with only the plangent, haunted “Slush” really harkening back to slower songs like “In the Privacy of Our Love” and “Won’t Wash”—even “One Life Stand” the song emotes by weaving together Joe Goddard’s shivering backing vocals and a squelchy, bouncing beat into something that’s more banger than ballad.
Tracks like “Hand Me Down Your Love”, “We Have Love”, and “I Feel Better” show just how far Hot Chip have come from the sparse likes of “Down with Prince”, and once the record launches into the surging “Thieves in the Night” it doesn’t let up until the euphoric “Take It In” closes things off. Even “Slush” functions more as the eye of the storm than as any sort of real pause. One Life Stand may be less pleasingly idiosyncratic than Hot Chip’s previous work, but it pays off in their most consistently winning set of songs to date. It’s still not quite as raucous as their incredible live show, as anyone who saw them play “Alley Cats” on tour can tell you, but those who felt that Made in the Dark never built up enough momentum ought to find this one’s straightforward drive more satisfying.
Hot Chip’s newfound sonic focus pays off, and with each record the band feels more like the five-piece that it now is instead of just the initial songwriting nucleus of Goddard and lead vocalist Alexis Taylor. For all that, however, where One Life Stand really shines is in its unabashed, open heart. The band have indicated that this is the first record where they’ve really embraced sincerity, but that’s a bit of a false dichotomy. Songs like “Wrestlers”, “The Warning”, and “Bad Luck” used their humour not to get away from emotions but to enhance them, telling jokes that weren’t really jokes (Taylor’s soft little lilt may make “fuck you, you fucking fuck” kind of funny, but he’s still angry), and despite the fact that Hot Chip’s more overtly whimsical songs have gotten most of the attention, they’ve always been just as good at writing sincerely: “Made in the Dark” and “So Glad to See You”, sure, but even as far back as “Crap Kraft Dinner”. And “No Fit State” (still maybe their best single track, especially when they interpolate New Order’s “Temptation” into it live, to come full circle) proved back in 2006 that they could aim for the heartstrings at the same time as the hips.
So “Thieves in the Night” is a stormer, yeah, but one with “Happiness is what we all want / May it be that we don’t always want” for a chorus, “Hand Me Down Your Love” has no problem asking “why can’t I be bright like my lover’s light?”, and “We Have Love” notes that, aside from its title, “there is nothing else to be proud of”. Hot Chip’s emotional deflections have always been artful and entertaining, but now that the mask has slipped a bit it’s hard not to find their new directness disarming and a little, well, loveable. There is, after all, a rich heritage of dance music (disco, house, etc.) that’s unafraid to embrace sentiment without being sentimental, sincerity without being mawkish. And that’s the kind of album Hot Chip have made, one that finds them even more comfortable in their own sonic and lyrical skin than ever before. The closing “Take It In”, Joe Goddard’s finest hour on a record that only confirms that he’s long been Hot Chip’s secret weapon, contrasts the almost menacing deadpan of the verses with maybe the best, and certainly one of the most vulnerable, chorus of their career:
And oh, my heart has flown to you just like a dove
It can fly, it can fly
And oh, please take my heart and keep it close to you
Take it in, take it in
That chorus is such a lovely, sighing thing that you can’t imagine the object of Goddard’s affections turning him down, but like all sincere romantic gestures he’s leaving himself open to rejection and devastation. Even a song like “Made in the Dark” doesn’t take the risk that “Take It In” does, and it’s the same risk that Hot Chip are taking with One Life Stand. They know the audience liked them when they were being witty, but will you accept them when they’re heartfelt? To which I can only say: Take it in, take it in.