A BATH FULL OF ECSTASY / HOT CHIP
Updated: Dec 4, 2019
Ecstatic moments of pleasure for the heart and the head
Pop music can be all about attempting to catch a moment in time, a fleeting high, a feeling of euphoria and the melancholy of failing to do so. Abba’s “Dancing Queen” is all about trying to capture that brief moment of ecstasy and the fact that it’s always just out of grasp (“Leave ‘em burning and then you’re gone.”). Hot Chip arrive with a bath full of the stuff, but just as ecstasy can exist in liquid form, this album proves that the feelings it provides can be elusive, transitional and forever – tantalisingly - out of reach.
Over a set of seven albums, Hot Chip always aimed to lodge themselves in your head – deliberately so. Throughout their evolution they’ve always understood some of the basic tenets of pop – come up with a great hook and repeat after me. They began by telling us “over and over and over and over….the joy of repetition really is in you.” They later reminded us again to “do it do it do it do it do it do it now.” They clearly understood the wiring between head and feet, allowing them to connect headphone isolation with the exuberance of the dancefloor with a charming directness. With “A Bath Full of Ecstasy”, they make a play for the heart as well, and this three way tension between head, heart and feet has resulted in a collection of songs that are surprisingly affecting and emotional.
The opening track – and the album’s best – “Melody of Love” is a heartfelt series of questions to which there only seems to be a set of vague and diffident answers. “Have you left space for me in this life?” Alexis Taylor questions, before continuing in a sweetly faltering, hesitant vocal, to ask “Do you have faith/to feel/in this world?” The ethereal feeling of passing through one life to the next is cemented by the repeated references to “this world” and the assertion that we’re “running out of love”. But there’s hope too in the assertion that “all you need is here/ it’s moving in the air.” The overall effect is impossibly lovely.
This lack of permanence seeps into the fabric of the record. “Echo” encourages you to “leave your past behind”, whilst “Hungry Child” states that “A moment like a heart attack stopped my life/ It’s momentary.” The permeating feeling of things hanging in a moment and then vanishing all too suddenly is given tragic poignancy by producer Phillipe Zdar’s untimely and accidental death just after this album was released.
Musically, there’s an expansive richness to the propulsive club-orientated tracks that are largely crammed into the first half of the record. “Hungry Child” is the most obvious housey banger, underpinned by an insidious baseline, whilst “Spell” revisits the tricks of their past with a simple but inescapable repeated chorus. The second half of the record settles into a slower pace, ending with the New-Agey simplicity of “No God”. In other people’s hands, lyrics like “I was starting to live/ I was starting to try/I was starting to feel/Never wondering why” might sound a bit fortune-cookie basic, but Hot Chip manage to make the simple affecting by playing it straight, all the more so when delivered by Alexis Taylor’s slightly blank and oddly naive sounding vocals.
Not everything they try works. They borrow Daft Punk’s vocoder effects for the title track to middling results, but overall – like the album title suggests – this is a record to seep into, switch off your brain, and luxuriate in the momentary feeling of ecstasy. However fleeting it may be.