Album Review – “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” by Phoenix

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album-coverFor nine years, Phoenix has flirted with mainstream success. Coupled in movie soundtracks, underground dance halls and the occasional indie music station, their songs have slowly seeped into popular culture along with their French colleagues Air and Daft Punk. Their fourth release, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, aims to tip the scales, offering their best movers, shakers and heartbreakers to date. And if their recent SNL appearance is any indication, America might be ready this time.

Phoenix, despite an attractive, original sound, is an A&R executive’s nightmare. They hardly rhyme, and if they do it’s well outside the established top 40 formats. The lyrics make little sense on first listen. The track listings are a hodgepodge, with two instrumentals damned between the vocal bites. Their intimate relationship with verse instead of refrain distracts any memorable chorus, and perhaps the biggest pop no-no: they’re ugly.

But all that might be forgiven on Amadeus, running wild with the best parts of their previous three offerings and enough firepower to offset Thomas Mars coy vocals that disengage those used to a more vicarious cool. Straight out the electronica/indie pipeline, their first single, “1901” pulls a shorebreak of killer strokes that out-blasts the Killers and Strokes, followed by “Fences,” a disco clap funneled through a gravity bong; so groovy it could sway a lamppost. Deeper tracks, such as “Lasso” and “Girlfriend” are quick, vulnerable and catchy, while “Big Sun” and “Love like a Sunset (1 and 2)” pray to Phoenix’ progressive side.

No song is more exemplary of what Phoenix has learned from their previous albums than “Rome.” The rhythm guitars of the verse crop right from “It’s Never Been Like That,” while the pre-chorus turns hops rock into a dancer straight off the “United” album that unleavens during the bridge down to the passionate, deft emotion that poured into the earlier album “Alphabetical.” In denouement, they gong it all together for and opus-like 45 seconds. Not the best song on the album, but an adequate senior thesis for a band graduating near the top of their class.

Retrofitted in pokey riffs under synth makeup, layered drums that krill the verse, doubled pre-choruses and progressive high notes, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is dropping bombs, three to be exact; one for each previous album, and when the dust settles, a 38 minute game of pop, alt, rock emerges from the rubble. Pop beats alt, alt beats rock, rock beats pop. Phoenix beats all.

Grade: 2/10

Track Listing

  1. Lisztomania
  2. 1901
  3. Fences
  4. Love Like a Sunset, Pt. I
  5. Love Like a Sunset, Pt. II
  6. Lasso
  7. Rome
  8. Big Sun
  9. Girlfriend
  10. Armistice

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