There was something a little bit off about Hot Chip when they first arrived: how to take a band who went on about monkeys with miniature cymbals and whose quirky gap year house was ready for the floor, providing, the cynics said, it was one with a chemistry department on it?
Even then though, the smart money – what else – was on the Londoners successfully escaping an era dominated by mawkish lads from Morecambe writing songs about bad drugs they’d never taken. Gleefully mixing art and wonk-heavy sonics for an audience tired of not going to the ball, their songs celebrated the durability of everyday love and held the kind of soul that came and sat next to you on the bus. Eventually, they became the Pet Shop Boys for the abstention generation.
Don’t worry about the title of their new album either: A Bath Full Of Ecstasy is overflowing with natural highs as opposed to mid-life crisis hedonism, lead Chippers Joe Goddard and Alexis Taylor preferring to avoid the sort of angst and recrimination about the current state of society that has embittered similarly veteran artists.
This contrarianism has extended to bringing in outside producers for the first time – Philippe Zdar of French dance duo Cassius and xx collaborator Rodaidh McDonald – and on opener Melody Of Love reaching for the inner ABBA, the glistening pop statement having been given a perceptive edit by the latter from its originally sprawling instrumental version.
It’s as if there’s a conscious effort to move on from their last effort, 2015’s slightly moribund Why Make Sense, and the familiar ingredients; Taylor’s sweetly vulnerable falsetto, the artisan bricolage of beats and melodies, a sense of innocence, are driven upwards by a new openness. There’s also, perhaps, the spur of wanting to be good enough for someone else: both Spell and Echo were written by the singer and Goddard for Katy Perry, only to end up here. Not coincidentally, back in the duo’s hands they’re mind-scramblingly addictive, saved heroically from the garish common denominators of the mainstream and very much Perry’s loss.
By their own admission, this is an album designed to be far more than the sugar rush of being banger smashed, and it wouldn’t be a Hot Chip album without moments of emotionally keyed in reflection, chief of which are closer No God, complete with a rolling, loose-limbed gospel vibe, and Positive, a gentle exhortation to be a shoulder to lean on for others in such dystopian times.
Mischief, however, is still theirs to make; in keeping with a record willing to mischievously invert pretty much everything, the rush of Hungry Child delivers the bomb that the quintet are supposed to be too chronically unhip to manage, its contours nakedly disco sharpened, whilst the words are about nightmares and come downs and heart attacks, shadows and whispers.
A Bath Full Of Ecstasy is the sound of the monkey who threw away his miniature cymbal, a mindful hedonist who traded repetition for a groove. Hot Chip prove with it that hope is still the answer, no matter that the question is something we want to leave behind.