A beguiling record, their finest to date.
Jaime Gill 2009-05-22
Forget the title of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix: it’s the only concession to showboating on Phoenix’s fourth album. Maybe it’s because France stands shruggingly apart from the UK’s relentless hype machine, or perhaps it’s something Gallically in-born but – like countrymen and occasional collaborators Air and Daft Punk – Phoenix seem intent on pursuing their own idiosyncratic musical path, whether fashionable or not. The fact it’s resulted in this beguiling record, their finest to date, would suggest they’re onto something.
From the brisk, adorable opener Lisztomania onwards this is an album that respects its listener, shunning sonic stunts and attention-seeking in favour of deft, accomplished musicianship and the kind of playful, kittenish charm that sneaks up on you slowly but surely. Black Box Recorder (a similarly understated, under-rated band) once sang “a heartfelt seduction lasts a lifetime”: Phoenix prove them right.
Lisztomania might draw on traditional and unfashionable influences, with its chiming ELO keyboards, but 1901’s buzzing synths are a reminder that the band are equally at ease with the modern world, while Thomas Mars’ irresistible vocal and exhilarating “hey-ey-ey-ey-ey” hook make it the closest thing here to an obvious pop hit. It sounds a little like Soulwax if they stopped trying so very hard.
Other songs are even more relaxed, but prove just as rewarding on repeated listening, whether the tinglingly electronic Fences (blessed with another gorgeous, fluttering Mars vocal) or the perfectly judged, perfectly produced Rome, with its hypnotic synths and lilting guitar arpeggios. Only a couple of songs stumble: the meandering, mostly instrumental Love Like A Sunset (which sounds like something Air might have wisely left off their second album), and the humdrum Lasso, which is the only song to sound like standard indie fare.
It’s unlikely that “Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart" will lift Phoenix from cult stardom to the bright lights of mainstream success, but one of the many things that makes this album so delightful is the fact that it sounds like it couldn’t care less.