They say it’s not what you know, but who you know. If this is true, then France’s Phoenix should really be the biggest band on the planet.
Originally formed as a backing band for a remix of Air‘s Kelly Watch The Stars, they previously shared band members with Daft Punk, their single Too Young appeared in Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation (singer Thomas Mars is dating the director) and the photographs for their second album Everything Is Everything were shot by fashion designer and rock star wannabe, Hedi Slimane. This, their fourth album, is co-produced by Cassius‘s Philippe Zdar.
Leaving aside their connections, the brilliantly-titled Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is a big leap forward after 2006’s pedestrian It’s Never Been Like That, an album that stripped away the bells and whistles to leave sparse, downbeat rock. Many of the 10 tracks here (the album zips by in just over half an hour) recall the pop perfection of their debut, Untitled, all slinky basslines, furious rhythmic guitar, warm keyboard washes and Mars’ laidback croon.
New single Lisztomania (a phrase coined to describe the publics reaction to performances by piano virtuoso Franz Liszt, fact fans) kicks things off in typically unrestrained fashion, an insistent guitar motif rings out whilst behind it a drumbeat taps out a rhythm like a metronome. It’s deceptively simple and unshakably catchy, as is taster single, 1901, which follows on. This time big synths rise and fall over a near disco beat, creating a euphoric amalgam of The Killers and The Strokes. The shimmering Fences concludes an opening trio of songs yet to be bettered on an album in 2009.
It’s at this point that the album takes an unexpected swerve, ditching the catchy hooks in favour of a five minute instrumental entitled Love Like A Sunset Pt.1, which is followed swiftly by the ninety second long second part. It’s not that either are unpleasant – Pt. 2 is particularly lovely – it’s just that they upset the balance of the album and if their inclusion was to act as a marker between the first half and the second half then that would signal some difference in sound on the latter half. Instead, we get more of the same, which in this case is exactly what’s required.
Lasso features more of their trademark urgent guitar – think Is This It-era The Strokes – and a dumb, fun throwaway lyric (“where would you go, where would you go with a lasso?”), whilst Girlfriend experiments with keyboard textures, warm organ sounds and another big chorus. Elsewhere, Rome, Countdown and album closer, Armistice, are more of the same with varying degrees of success.
One criticism the band has always had to face is that their sound can come across as rather bloodless. There are moments here when you long for a bit more energy, perhaps an errant guitar solo or some vocal passion, but then that’s not really their style. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is a slender, fat-free affair, all Gallic swerve and subtle swagger. This may well be the album to broaden their fan-base wider then the fashionable glitterati.