My friend Sam, when singing N*Sync’s “Pop,” once changed the lyrics to “What’s up with this pop shit/what the fuck is it all about.” He then laughed and commented, “I like to sing it dirty.” This concept of “dirty pop” is what makes UK duo Hot Chip tick. They do dance pop—not boy band pop, but more DFA-style pop—and they do it with some smart-assed faux gangsta lyrics. And they do it, I presume, for a laugh, as their debut Coming On Strong is mostly lighthearted and fun. But, of course, there’s something noble in that.
The comparisons are vast and obvious, ranging from The Beta Band to Prince to Beck to Ween. In fact, it wouldn’t be completely out of the question to call Hot Chip an extremely stoned electro take on all dance music of the last 20 years. To call it all a pisstake, though, would be to miss out on the bigger picture. Sure, they’re goofballs to some respect. But the fact of the matter is Hot Chip can cook up a sweet slice of icy electro funk. And if my metaphors are mixed, it’s only for the sake of going along with Hot Chip’s idiosyncratic package.
The grooves are plentiful: “Bad Luck” is lazy and laid back, “Take Care” is breezy and bouncy, “Keep Fallin'” is superdiscofunky. Then they up the funk even more on “Down With Prince” and even go for a fairly straightforward indie pop sound with “Baby Said.” And it becomes even more obvious how similar these guys are, in some respect, to The Beta Band.
The funny thing about Hot Chip is how hushed and restrained they seem at first. They’re something like a smirking Junior Boys or Fischerspooner if they preferred a bongload to more glamorous club drugs. Then, of course, you notice the lyrics, once you start paying attention. Vocalist Alexis Taylor reveals that he and partner Joe Goddard are the “tightest motherfuckers” and that he’s like Stevie Wonder but he can see things. (Oooooohhhh!) Then comes the kicker: “I’m sick of motherfuckers tryin’ to tell me they’re down with Prince.” Of course, Taylor gets some competition from Goddard on “Playboy,” as he croons in deepest tones about 20-inch rims on a Peugeot, bumpin’ Yo La Tengo.
There’s no telling how most people are going to react to Coming On Strong. For those who like a clear distinction between their indie pop and dance music, it’s just going to come off as a confused jumble. For more adventurous listeners, and ones with a sense of humor I must add, it will merely seem like a fun and fresh update to DFA-style dance pop. It’s dirty pop, and I mean that in every possible way.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.