I know what you are thinking, “This album has been out for almost 2 weeks, we already know how good it is”. This is all true, but I’m trying to catch up with all the things that I want to write about and I have been addicted to the new Dirty Projectors album. Maybe this is because I only started regularly updating my blog within the past week and I have had the new Phoenix album for over a month. Perhaps the excitement about it is gone. Actually, come to think of it, that is exactly what is so right about this album. After listening to it regularly for over a month the magic is not gone.
This happened with my first introduction to Phoenix not too long after “It’s Never Been Like That” came out. I believe that was during the summer too. Maybe it wasn’t a summer, but Phoenix has carved a nice little niche for themselves in writing really upbeat, summer-sounding tunes that benefit from fantastic production that is not heard too often on albums. There is something warm and convivial about their songwriting style. It’s easy going. It’s carefree but extraordinarily articulate and perfectly crafted. It’s, in a word, French.
Thankfully the days of “Funky Squaredance” are gone. The albums just keep getting better and more finely tuned, no more needlessly long and unforgiving songs that wander here, there and everywhere. I think that is the criticism that I have of the album “United” as a whole. It wanders. One song is a dancy jam, the next is an over-produced ballad that sounds like it is straight out of the year 1987. Maybe the sound recording technology in Paris is slightly behind ours, but I doubt it. These guys have money, they can do what they want. Though maybe they didn’t have that much money back then, but they should now. But I digress. The point is that they have found their voice on this album.
Finally, as I have said before, 2009 is going to be a great year for music. It is already shaping up to be one. Albums like this don’t exactly come around every year.
Phoenix is not afraid to make music that is recognizable, because it is reminiscent of another era. They have captured our attention because of their ability to make songs that sound like they are from our childhood, or sound like they could be. When listening to “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” there is an overwhelming feeling of “oooh where have I heard this before?” or, if not, for me at least, the songs are already connected to memories.
A little less guitar-driven than “It’s Never Been Like That” it is not accurate to say that this album is synth-driven, but there is definitely more of a balance. Phoenix sounds more lush, bigger, more forceful. The production is tastefully done and everything is really clean sounding and pitch perfect. The world would be a much better place if everyone took as much care in creating their albums in post as Phoenix.
As would be expected this album is full of catchy hooks, and the obligatory instrumental track, though this time “Love Like a Sunset” is a song with an instrumental building up to it. I think this works a little bit better than previous attempts like “North”. It must be important to them that they show that they aren’t just some ultra efficient pop-song writing machine, and they want to show that they are fantastic instrumentalists as well. They can definitely craft a longer composition, and rarely does it come off overblown or long-winded. Seeing them perform on Saturday Night Live a while back (it seems like forever ago now) made me feel the same as when Spoon played last season. It feels like this is the little band that could, even though they have been around for a while with a steadily growing audience. The performance there was great, so great in fact there were rumblings that they were playing along to a pre-recorded track (they absolutely were not).
I have heard the music of Phoenix described as sounding like a sunrise. I think that metaphor is quite apt, especially for this album.
Below is the track 1901: