Album review: Phoenix
Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
It’s often said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. Conversely, Phoenix are what architects should dance to. Sleek minimalism. Clean lines. A propensity to wear white. Emotionally neutral but texturally rich – they’re the sound of Richard Rogers’ utopian future. If Brian Eno wanted to do ‘Music For Airports Two’, he’d just tape a Phoenix album with a bunch of gate announcements over it and spend the time he saved thinking up more policy proposals for the Lib Dems.
Anyway, ‘Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix’… in case the title didn’t give it away, the French faux-funkers’ fourth is intended to be their Pompidou Centre – taking their formula to a yes-the-pipes-are-on-the-bloody-outside level of showmanship. Given the fevered way the blogs seized on ‘1901’, there’s now even talk of an ‘Elbow Moment’ of real mainstreaming. It’s been a while coming. Long beloved of a hardcore of tastemaking types like Sofia Coppola and Hedi Slimane, their recorded output hasn’t always lived up to a fistful of great singles. 2006’s ‘It’s Never Been Like That’ was a case in point – often drowning in its own stylised inertia. But in its infatuation with The Strokes, it did at least lay the groundwork for what we’ve got here. ‘Wolfgang Amadeus…’ achieves an optimal blend of interlocking rhythms adapted from ‘Is This It’’s undying template, and their more long-standing soft rock influences. The real star of the show isn’t the often-bloodless figure of Thomas Mars, it’s the brilliantly detailed production, centred around the dovetailing drum and guitar chops, best heard via headphones for the full stroboscopic effect.
It is also ridiculously front-loaded: the tap-tappity rhythms of ‘Lisztomania’, then ‘1901’ and its rave-like stop-go guitars, followed by the classic Phoenix of ‘Fences’, containing a future-funk breakdown Jamiroquai would cut off his penis to own. As a sign of confidence/foolishness/Gallic perversity they hammer home this banging opening trilogy with five minutes of delicate instrumental – ‘Love Like A Sunset Part 1’ – Sigur Ros’s ‘( )’ with less between the brackets. They then chase that with ‘Part 2’, which translates as ‘Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space And It’s Really Nice’.
Of course it wouldn’t be a Phoenix album if it didn’t sag a bit in the second act. Gradually Mars’ melodies take a back seat, as they settle into a pleasant but less sharply lit groove. But while the mid-tempo likes of ‘Lasso’ and ‘Rome’ are hardly going to tear music a new asshole, Phoenix manage to maintain the airy and Air-y mood consistently enough for that to be not much more than a gripe. Soft-rock me Amadeus.
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