Friday, May 22, 2009

Phoenix: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

If you're a regular reader of HAD, and you thought that this review would be anything less than drooling admiration, well then you haven't really been paying attention. That being said, we've done so much drooling in the past few months, over both Phoenix and their new record, that we figured it would be more than a little bit appropriate to give our opinion some weight, promote ourself beyond the status of addicted fanboys, and hopefully win over some readers in the process.

So what is it that's just so great about Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix? In short, it hits the sweet spot. It manages to take all the strongest components of the band's earlier albums, and combine them into an amalgam of pop perfection that is rock solid from star to finish. The dance vibe from United, the sweet groove of Alphabetical, and the rock solid garage band of It's Never Been Like That: each of the elements is roped in in turn, to make the record a thorough portrait of all the things that make Phoenix great.

The record opens with the one-two punch of the album's first two singles: "1901" and "Lizstomania". The former is a synthed out masterpiece that manages to leverage a driving rock beat and laid back vocals with an undeniable sing along chorus. The latter is a dance-rock masterpiece that even in most curmudgeonly music critic would have difficulty resisting. These two were obvious choices for singles, but thankfully don't even begin to make up the meat of the record. Things continue with the significantly more chilled out "Fences", which builds a laid back dance beat to a fantastic climax. The album then pulls back considerably with "Love Like A Sunset", which goes into a six minute instrumental before falling into a lull of vocals, acoustic guitars, and synths, to close out the record's first side.

The first half of the record doesn't even begin to wear out the band's pop sensibility however, and the second side opens with another one-two punch. The first is "Lasso": a straight ahead rock song with fantastic beats, jangly guitars, and a catchy chorus. Despite its strength, it's almost overshadowed by the second track. "Rome" manages to be as epic as they come, opening with a simple guitar and beat, and slowly building to a massive instrumental bridge at it's core. The bridge blends into another chorus, which closes out the song in a sumptuous wave of analog synth goodness.

The record closes with three tracks that could be considered almost "formulaic" for the band that Phoenix has become. "Countdown", "Girlfriend", and "Armistice" manage to completely envelop the band's dance/rock/pop vibe so thoroughly, that they almost seem effortless. If they weren't such pop perfection, it would be easy to forget how painstaking these arrangements are, and how clear it is that Phoenix is a band that is expert in their craft.

Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, despite all its accessibility and pop perfection, is also likely to be something of a dividing line for listeners. It so perfectly encompasses the band's sound, that for those who love it, it's like a gift from above. For those who don't however, it's easy to see how this record might come across as a trite pop throwaway. All we can say to those people is listen harder. This is a band that is truly unique, and despite their accessible sound, is managing to realize something close to artistic perfection. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is a testament to their skill, and if you can't at least hear that, you're probably not paying close enough attention.

mp3: Phoenix - Lisztomania