On Hot Chip’s last album they sang, “We take fun seriously” which was a perfect line for a band of music obsessives who fill their songs with little details that you don’t always notice straight away. Luckily this approach doesn’t take away from the sense of spontaneity and fun that gives them an edge over a lot of other bands.
Hot Chip seemed like they were on the verge of becoming big a few years ago. They’d broken through with the single ‘Over & Over’ and the Mercury nominated The Warning LP. They followed that with ‘Ready For The Floor’, a proper hit single. When they came back in 2010 with their best album, One Life Stand, they seemed to have just missed their moment. Every couple of years they put out an album without any drama or press stories about how hard the recording process was, and it’s almost as though they are being taken for granted. Six albums in, Hot Chip are back with yet another great album. It’s an album that (as they’ve pointed out) comes closer to sounding like the live band they’ve become.
Why Make Sense? opens with the first single ‘Huarache Lights’ which is a bit of a red herring for the rest of the album. It’s one of the darkest songs they’ve produced, with its dense and atmospheric synths and throbbing bassline. Immediately the mood of the album changes with ‘Love Is The Future’ which is much more upbeat. The arrangement was co-written by Scritti Politti’s Green Gartside, which seems like the perfect fit. Two of the album’s recurring musical themes are their use of disco strings and layered harmonies. These are both used perfectly when the group sing the title of the song towards the end. Their love of 70’s disco and funk is all over this album.
‘Cry For You’ is one of the album’s highlights. It starts off sounding like it’s going to be one of their earlier quirky sounding songs, but quickly changes when the synths come in on the chorus. The emotional high point of the album comes when Alexis sings, “If this is for the best, let’s put this to the test.” It sounds like a heartfelt plea and it’s really moving. ‘White Wine & Fried Chicken’ is the simplest melody here. Alexis sings, “You gave me white wine and fried chicken, a new place to stay.” He sounds vulnerable, which is his main strength as singer. As complex as Hot Chip songs sometimes sound, it’s great when they strip things back and make love songs this simple and affecting.
My highlight of the album is ‘Easy To Get’, which, like their previous single/album One Life Stand, makes a very Hot Chip-style pun on a well-known phrase. This time Alexis is on the dance floor “Playing easy to get”. It’s heavily influenced by disco and sounds like the obvious hit. ‘Need You Now’ is the latest single, and like ‘Huarache Lights’, it is one of the darker songs on Why Make Sense? Its chorus is a sample from an Italo disco single by Sinnamon, but sounds more like lost 90s house single. The lyrics address the paranoia and fear of living in these times. It’s not the obvious choice for a single, but maybe that’s what they need to get them in the top ten for the second time.
The album closes with the title track, which is one of the hardest songs they’ve done thanks to the big drums and stuttering bass. Like ‘Need You Now’, it comments on the times we live in “Why make sense when the world around refuses?” It also features one of my favourite lyrics, “Why be tough when strength is just for losers”.
Hot Chip are a really great group, but I still think they haven’t quite made the album for which they’ll be remembered. Their previous two albums came close but I’m still waiting for their Technique or their Sound of Silver. As good as their first three albums were, when One Life Stand came out they said they wanted to make an album like Prince’s Dirty Mind — “all killer no filler”. Why Make Sense? manages to be that, but is also the sound of them in a holding pattern. Despite the quality of the album, I’m not sure it will win them any new fans. It’s everything I’ve come to expect from them. It’s brilliantly produced; it’s playful, colourful, and in places, very beautiful. It’s an album that sounds like Hot Chip but without repeating themselves. Why Make Sense? could do with a few more big moments, like ‘Flutes’ and ‘Let Me Be Him’ from their previous album — these were obvious highlights that you know you’d want to hear in their live sets for years to come. For now, they keep their reputation as one of the most reliable groups going. Next time they could be the best. They’re probably a lot closer than you think.
Why Make Sense? is released on 18th May 2015 via Domino Records