Song 127: Hot Chip, “Alley Cats” (2010)


I love it when a songwriter takes an age-old theme and explains it in a new way. There’s arguably nothing new to say, but there are still millions of way to say those old things, and there’s something reassuringly democratic about that. We don’t all have the talent, but we all have the opportunity, and some people grab that chance with both hands.

Hot Chip does it pretty often, and they did it very well with “Alley Cats,” from their excellent album One Life Stand. One of the best recent trends in indie music is the growth of bands who make dancey pop from a singer-songwriter perspective. LCD Soundsystem is probably the best example of this, and Hot Chip is their perfect complement (which is why their collaborative live album was so good). Both bands have songs that set personal stories to synths and beats, as if they’re inviting us to take part, physically and emotionally, in their heartbreak and joy.

In the case of “Alley Cats,” the title animal is a metaphor for a relationship, one that requires maintenance and attention–more than the people can provide. It’s a good premise, but one that doesn’t lend itself to a five-minute song, so the analogy shifts to household flowers, and then it becomes both more general and pointed: “The other night you said you might try to kill that thing I love.” Damn.

Whether it’s a housecat, a houseplant, or a thing encased in glass and stone, preservation requires care.


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