Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
4 out of 5 stars
When The Strokes released their debut album Is This It (2001), it was met with a wave of zealous critical acclaim. The explanation for the record’s success is multi-faceted, but one irrefutable reason is the instrumental cohesion that seeped from every song on the album. Often times, the band was so locked in as an ensemble it became difficult to distinguish synthesized recordings from live instruments.
In a similar vein of calculated pop music is French electro-pop outfit Phoenix. With their fourth studio album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, the Parisians distance themselves from the garage and strut toward the club. The band’s complete and thorough songwriting has brought them to a Strokes-like musical status, gaining equal respect from hipsters and the mainstream alike.
Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is essentially split into two halves, each showcasing a different musical mindset. The album opens with a trio of extremely appealing tracks, marked by angular guitar lines, syncopated drumming and singer Thomas Mars’s soaring tenor. The pop sensibilities embedded in the synth-heavy single “1901” exemplify the band’s impeccable songwriting ability.
Dividing the two halves is the mountainous “Love Like A Sunset,” an eight-minute epic that sets the stage for the more eclectic second half of the disc. Instrumentation is the backbone of the album, a quality reminiscent of The Strokes’s tight sound. Instead of depending on a single hook or featured instrument, each track seems to have been meticulously written, with intricate and indispensable parts delegated to every instrument.
When a foreign band attempts to write lyrics outside of their native tongue, it often results in a mundane, obvious and less-than-pleasing English cadence. With this in mind, Mars uses literate words that are astonishing in their subtle beauty, reminding the listener that English is the language of pure pop. This is vigorously displayed on the driving “Countdown (Sick For The Big Sun),” as Mars asks “Do you remember when 21 years was old?” with the fervor of a teenager and the wisdom of an old man.
Though this album may not achieve the success of Is This It, it deserves to be respected within the same context. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is a brilliant album by a band that has surely paid its dues. After ten years flying under the radar, Phoenix has finally made the proverbial “hop across the pond” into the watering mouths and eager ears of America’s critical indie-rock crowd. These nine tracks exhibit an infectious blend of sprawling pop and a European sense of style — easily ready for mass appeal.