BEFORE Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, who exactly were Phoenix? After dissolving his punk rock band Darlin’ with the members of what would become Daft Punk, Laurent Brancowitz joined Thomas Mars, Deck d’Arcy and Chris Mazzalai in their band to create garage rock music. Two years after playing together, the group took the name Phoenix and began releasing music. The band released three studio albums from 2000 through to 2006 with varying levels of underground success. Come 2009, however, they released an album that would change everything for them.
Thomas Mars described the name Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix as ‘childish’, comparing it to drawing a moustache on the Mona Lisa. Indeed, there’s a certain contrasting element to this album; on one hand you have the names of some of these songs. ‘Lisztomania’, ‘Rome’, ‘1901’, ‘Armistice’. It all feels very classic European. But when you listen to the album itself, you’re greeted with a flurry of upbeat, energetic pop music. It’s a wonderful contrast that lets Phoenix bring that 19th century feel into the 21st.
Not only that, but this record is packed with hits. Opening with ‘Lisztomania’, an excellent four minutes of chirpy alt rock packed with synth and pace, the album pauses for breath before diving into ‘1901’. Before Birdy got her hands on it, ‘1901’ was a sentimental piece about Thomas Mars’ expectations of love. There are warnings of over indulgence and there are declarations of adoration, but all seem wonderful when backed by a pounding drum beat. Like the track title, it feels rather childish. Things mellow out in the next track, ‘Fences’, which glides gracefully though three and a half minutes of indie pop goodness.
The next two tracks, ‘Love Like A Sunset’, Parts One and Two are my least favourite on the album. Gritty syths and chipped, Foals-like guitar make for an interesting instrumental, and the ‘drop’ at the end of part one is impressive. Compared to the single-worthy tracks on the rest of the album, however, it’s disappointing. Things swiftly get back to business with ‘Lasso’ and perhaps the best bass line on this album. Mars’ vocals and the beat interlock excellently, and it’s a similar situation on follow up track ‘Rome’, where Mars’ vocal hook will send shivers of recognition down the spines of any listener.
Then we get into the final stretch. While ‘Countdown’ and ‘Armistice’ are both very sweet tracks, neither compare to ‘Girlfriend’, one of the best songs on this album. From the opening keyboard riff, it’s clear what kind of song this is. Perhaps an even better love song than ‘1901’, ‘Girlfriend’ speaks of longing and reassurance, camaraderie and ambition. It’s a wonderfully peppy number that even manages to get the listeners’ feet moving.
No, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix isn’t a perfect album, but my God it’s enjoyable. It’s easily Phoenix’s best album to date and somehow manages to make almost every track a hit. There’s something incredibly likeable about this album; it’s very easy to listen to, it’s easy to dance to and it’s hard to point out anything particularly bad about it. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix won’t be advancing pop music anytime soon, but it’ll keep on entertaining us.
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