Falling in love. Falling out of love. Getting all dressed up, meeting ‘the one’ in a nightclub and enjoying a whirlwind romance, before going your separate ways, wallowing in self-pity and then picking yourself up the next weekend to do it all over again. The many ebbs and flows of love and relationships have been the driving force behind pop music for years, marrying the most traditional and miserable lyrical themes with jubilant music to create a product that is, in the end, quite uplifting.
However, here in 2012, I can’t help but wonder what has happened to pop. Messrs Minaj, Guetta and Pitbull have taken the most glorious form of music and turned it into an overly sexualised, meaningless form, full of orchestrated ‘drops’, casual misogyny and tacky innuendo. ‘Let’s party our lives away’, they tell us. Which is fine. But why would you want your evening soundtracked by someone who thinks it's intelligent to rhyme Kodak with Kodak? What happened to smart pop? To slick beats, funky synths and simple yet effortless lyrics? Welcome Hot Chip, the most unlikely looking pop stars around, come to save us all.
The five piece London group have been (excuse the pun) chipping away at the industry for quite some time, flirting with the mainstream with key singles Over and Over and Ready For The Floor. ‘In Our Heads’ marks their first album release as Domino Records artists, an opportunity for a new lease of life that they have welcomed with open arms. Having lost LCD Soundsystem to retirement last year, Hot Chip are our only defenders of the Hipster House title, and it is this they explore most interestingly on this record, a self-confessed continuation with their ‘love affair of different kinds of dance music’.
For the first time, they have become adept at playing up to their strengths and individualities, melding the spacious, minimal house of These Chains (the older, leaner brother to made in the dark’s I Feel Better) with the unabashed disco funk of lead single Night & Day, more traditional of Hot Chip’s usual bleeping and bonking fare. The fun element doesn’t mean that these are songs without substance; The dark surge of opener ‘Motion Sickness’ is suitably nauseous, the soundtrack to an 80’s adventure quest game backed by eerie repetition ('remember when everyone thought the earth was round?’).
Most notably, In Our Heads harnesses the voice of Alexis Taylor, in all its glory. In many ways, the bespectacled, middle class 20-something is the owner of the perfect pop voice, loaded with the suppressed euphoria that makes Hot Chip's brand of dance music so affecting. To his credit, Flutes is a hefty contender for song of the year, growing and swimming in such a way that you forgot it runs for nearly 7 minutes. Clearly influenced by Kraftwerk (the album was made on the German band’s own mixing desk), it is pop songwriting at Harvard level; whilst the chorus might be nothing more than ‘Work that inside outside/Work that more/Work that right side left side/-More and more’, t seems to be so much leaner and sleek than anything Xenomania could have dreamt up.
If sugary pop goodness is what you’re looking for, then Hot Chip aren’t afraid to deliver. Don’t Deny Your Heart could have been a Kylie or Madonna song, strutting its way in a feathered headdress across the stage at the 02 arena. Similarly, in the hands of Usher or Justin Timberlake, Look At Where We Are has seductive chart smash stamped across it. It’s both wonderful and curious how Hot Chip hold an almost ‘ghost writer’s touch , proof that pop does not have to come wearing hot pants and charging £50 a ticket.
So where are the let downs? Little to none. In Our Heads masters the art of working on two different levels – the attention grabbing hits at first glance, and the more lasting enjoyment beyond that. Now There Is Nothing perhaps suffers a little from over egging, but considering that the other 10 songs are completely on point, we can forgive them that. Along with their fellow Domino artists (Eugene Mcguinness, Animal Collective, Blood Orange) they are leading the force for witty pop music, an unspoiled group of compu-nerds singing so jubilantly about love, sex and magic. After all, it is one of the only things in life that undoubtedly affects us all; why shouldn’t they celebrate it? What separates Hot Chip from their mainstream contemporaries is not their lack of ambition, but rather that they have simply too many ideas to be interested in competing in the same league.
Hot Chip performing Night & Day on Later with Jools Holland