CD Review of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix by Phoenix
Phoenix: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Recommended if you like
Delays, Only Son, Stars
Label
Glassnote
Phoenix:
Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

Reviewed by Neil Carver

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rue Anecdote: While having dinner in a local restaurant the day after the release of Phoenix’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, the lead track from the album came on the overhead speakers. Interrupting the conversation, I paused to listen to make sure it really was "Lisztomania" falling between Bloc Party and Modest Mouse on whatever digital playlist they were streaming. Caught up, as that song demands, one could only think "These guys really are good! They can totally hold their own with indie rock giants - and it’s a safe bet no one here has ever heard of them. Shame, that!" Such a lack of awareness is something that should be easily rectified with their excellent fourth album.

The fact is, Phoenix manages to sound fresher and more vital than a lot of their peers, having matured into a great band that deserves to get the same wide notice of their better-known contemporaries. Hailing from the suburbs of Paris, Phoenix were originally heavily associated with their countrymen and labelmates Air, but they’ve created a truly international sound that should define them as a great band on their own. The creative songwriting and eclectic melodies initially could have blossomed in Minneapolis or some other burgeoning American indie scene, especially on the album’s brilliant second track, "1901" and the near-ballad "Rome" that anchors the middle of the record. To their credit, the songs of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix minimize the band’s angular guitar and overly retro post-punk affectations, going instead for a love of sunny, hook-filled pop that also eschews the hyper-production that can stain American efforts.

There are subtle, Beatlesque touches throughout, coming on surprisingly strong with "Love Like a Sunset, Pt. 2." Part one is a brilliant throwback ambient electronic piece that is true to the band’s origins, updating old school Tangerine Dream influences into evocative pop, but "Pt. 2" is an amazing shift that feels like they somehow resurrected George Harrison and got him to play around in the studio with them for two glorious minutes. It’s a crying shame this perfect gem of a song is tucked away so subtly - it’s there and gone before it really gets started, leaving you aching for one more chord.

That’s one of Wolfgang’s strengths, though: Phoenix refuses to give you too much of a good thing. Every song manages to feel like a completely constructed work, yet they constantly leave you wanting more. "Fences" is the most dance-oriented groove they’ve got, and could easily have justified an extra two minutes of the big beat drums and Jerry Harrison-like (Casual Gods era) guitar line, but they tie it off neatly at three minutes and 50 seconds. Like all good writers and showmen, Phoenix understands that the trick is to leave the audience tantalized, and they master that craft here. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is 37 minutes long but seems to just fly by, demanding a repeat listen (or a dozen) without ever getting old.

Some bands might take a forced hiatus to indulge individual creative urges and perhaps never quite find the synergy again, but when lead singer Thomas Mars took time for the birth of his first child, Phoenix managed to come back together, revitalized and reconnected with their original producer, to create a shimmering, infectious collection of songs that should be on everyone’s summer playlist. Phoenix should take their rightful place in the collective pop music consciousness, here and abroad. Highly recommended.

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