If you know anything about Phoenix, you know this: they always deliver. Always. From back in the Alphabetical days (it's impossible to not love "Everything is Everything") to It's Never Been Like That ("Second to None" anyone?) they have consistently put out a sound that is catchy, cool, and that has a slightly different vibe than anything out there. I don't know if it's the funk/rock music or Thomas Mars' unique style (he's got one of those voices that you know the second you hear it), but Phoenix somehow manages to capture a quirkiness of alternative funk, and display it through a mainstream lense. Their sound has always emerged as fresh, yet embraceable and I like that. Well, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is here and it continues the trend of solidity that has threaded it's way through Phoenix's catalogue.
PMA has already, and rightfully, trumpeted the awesomeness of "Lisztomania," so I'm not gonna bang on that drum anymore except to say that it's a good measuring stick for the rest of the album. As far as I see it, if you like "Lisztomania," you will like Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. It's as simple as that. One of the great things about this album is that it's packed with songs as good (almost) as what I view as its best track ("Lisztomania"). "1901," "Rome," and "Countdown (Sick for The Big Sun)" are some of the great songs that add beautiful texture to the record. From guitar plucked choruses, to soft synth organs, each of these stand as noteworthy supplement (not filler) to other true highpoints of the album.
"Fences" is one such highpoint that could be considered a contender for "best on album" honors. I love the vocal that Thomas Mars delivers. His voice stretches from falsetto arches to melodic chatter. It's really something. The funkiness of the chorus is hip, and the overall vibe of the music uses a sophisticated construction that is rarely heard in todays pop/rock. Besides, it has one of the coolest guitar/vocal breaks I've heard in a while (35 seconds in). "Fences" has one of those funk beats you'll bounce to while listening, and find yourself humming for days afterward. Sweet song.
Phoenix has progressed their sound to a new level and "Love Like A Sunset (Planetarium)" showcases it. I love the feigned simplicity that it employs; from the opening drum beats through to the chorus. Thereâ€™s a lot going on here, but like much of Phoenix's music, it gives the allusion of simplicity. I love the way they use less to do more, and use basic musicianship to build a story.
Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix will certainly end up as one of my personal favorites of 2009. It's a solid album that Phoenix should be proud of. It has mass listenability, and will be a popular record in 2009. I don't think it will measure up as anyone's album of the year. Yes, it shows Pheonix's progression as a band, but it doesn't push any boundaries or bring anything particularly new to the audio table. Wolfgang is vintage Phoenix, and it's as good as anything they've released to date. Still, any one of these songs could have been found on It's Never Been Like That, and would've fit in. At the same time, "Everything is Everything" could have been on this album, and it would have married fine in the collection. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is certainly full of more great songs from a great band, but I don't see any meaningful argument that would vault the album into any "of the year" discussions. Still, there is plenty to enjoy here, and I'm confident that it's a record you will return to over and over again.