[Music Review] Phoenix “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix”

You might not think you’ve heard of French band Phoenix, but I bet you have. There is a commercial currently on air produced by automobile staple Cadillac, and a Phoenix song from this very album is featured prominently in the advertisement, so much that the person driving the Caddy in the commercial is listening to Phoenix on their iPod in the car. But other than that, I would be surprised if this band had slipped through the more mainstream music cracks.

However, after listening to this 2009 album (as well as 2006’s It’s Never Been Like That) I can safely proclaim that as an outright tragedy, as this French quartet produces some of the catchiest, funnest, most upbeat Pop music in the World today.

The album sets its tone perfectly with opening track “Lisztomania”, that is equal parts funky and poppy. A lot of bands who produce this brand of music fail because it tends to veer too far in one direction. It’s either too eclectic or experimental, or it’s too poppy and lacks anything substantial. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix provides the listener not only with catchy pop music, but also with something musically strengthened by it’s more esoteric ingredients.

But Phoenix is not just an inscrutable band doomed to live undergound with their loyal fan base like so many who have come before them. This album proves that Alternative Pop and Creativity do not have to be mutually exclusive. “1901”, the song  from the aforementioned Cadillac ad, proves that Alternative music can sound clean, upbeat, positive, and be of substance. “1901” is itself a tribute to old Paris.  “Love Like a Sunset Part 1” is almost Mogwai-esque, and is completely instrumental. It builds and builds and as you listen you can actually feel the tension within each note as the song continues to ad layer after layer, and the song’s ambiance is almost cabalistic in it’s structure.

Phoenix at their core write simply and directly about love. They toe the balance between sentimental and not sentimental (which, ironically are the first lyrics of the album). They are the lovechild of Coldplay and The Killers, if not a little better than each of those bands (definitely better than the Las Vegas based one), definitely a bit more respectable because Phoenix isn’t trying to be anything other than Phoenix (where it can be debated that Coldplay and The Killers each borrow a lot from U2).

“Rome” compares a failing relationship with a dying empire. “Countdown” uses almost a mnemonic device in its lyrics, with the “Drip, Drip, Drip, Drip” , “Sick, Sick, Sick, Sick” portions, and there is an insane freshness to them. Almost like  poetry put to crisp music without the poetry coming off snarky. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is nostalgic and modern at the same time, grinding together snappy snare drums with plucky guitars, pairing them with an enhanced vocal track and some meaningful lyrics that aren’t ambiguous for the sake of it.

Final Words

This album is far and away one of the finest of 2009, and it has so many strengths it would be superfluous to list them all. The songs are brisk, quick, and sharp, and they’ll stick with you. The album can be listened to repeatedly, and clocking in at under 37 minutes means you can listen to it over and over again, and even at this point after more than a dozen listens in a week it still doesn’t feel played out. It’s fun and catchy, but it provides a substance that usually ends up lost in alternative or indie music. No, this album doesn’t test your nerves or patience, it seduces you right out of the gate.

Score: 9.0/10 (Great)

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