Review 3: Phoenix

Posted on July 27, 2011


Awesome pop art

Method of choosing: Opened folder, closed eyes and toggled arrow keys up and down; swirled mouse randomly about.

Albums available: It’s Never Been Like That, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix


The band name is nicely unobtrusive. Still, references to ‘phoenixes’ (rising from the ashes, mythologies, Harry Potter if you’re pretty young, ‘Mystiques ‘of the ‘Orient’ if you’re pretty old etc) seem to be kinda self-important. Shades of hippie, even.

I open It’s Never and the first track is titled “Napoleon Says”. Instantly I’m all a-ha! Self-congratulatory geek wannabe! But then I read the rest of the song titles and they make me think of driving long distances across America, at which point I remember Phoenix= Hot Buttered Soul. (Shit. NOW who’s self-congratulatory?)

I open Wolfgang and see “Lisztomania”, “1901”, “Love Like a Sunset”, “Rome”, “Armistice”… and now I’m convinced they must be pretty smart. I see tall, skinny dudes with longish hair and strangely magnetic body musks. Shit, I’m getting turned on already. Evidently it doesn’t take much. Ahem! On to the music.

Actual music:

First thought: oh crap, are they actually British?

Second first thought: this sounds pretty good. Reminiscent of 1990s Brit-rock. The tall stringy dudes get a little shorter (their hair get shorter too, for sure), but everything else stays ceteris peribus. Funny and irreverent lyrics “riding in a trench coat”; “napoleon says to take off your coat; take off your long-johns too”. They do seem smart. I don’t know what they’re referencing, but I hope I’m making myself sound smart by listening/ reviewing/ nodding-sagely-and-proclaiming-approval association. Tunes are upbeat, fun, catchy, easy on the ear. (That wasn’t an insult! Really! Oh dear.) Well, music doesn’t have to shatter glass and scare my cats to be Good, right?

Anyway, the song “Courtesy Laughs” is playing – drums a little discordant, sounds like fingernails tapping on a wooden box. But the tune has some great hooks and the singer’s voice is charmingly insouciant. Also, it’s nice that they switch things up – next in “North” is a lovely understated rainy reflection. Something about this music sounds really familiar. Can’t put my finger on it quite yet. At some point, I was thinking, where would I listen to this? All I could think of was (or the best I could think of was) ‘at a concert’ but that isn’t exactly a great sign because concerts are where you’re pretty much expected to listen to anything that you paid money to listen to. Thing is, I’m liking this for sure – but it’s starting to feel “placeless”. Or am I being ridiculous? Ok that was It’s Never Been Like That. On to the next album.

Cover of Wolfgang Amadeus, released 2009

Wolfgang starts off “Lisztomania”, wonderfully sardonic and with a slightly bitter edge. The melody is also more interesting and layered. This album is more mixed-up, too – I could be wrong, but I did fall asleep to an entirely instrumental track – not a particularly riveting one, but definitely engagin gnonetheless. Anyway, I’m still rather conscious of the fact that my exposure to the Britneys and the Neyos and the Gagas of the world might have dulled my musical senses into a hammer-edged bluntness, under which anything subtle or sensitive would just get pounded into oblivion. So this is an exercise in sharpening the taste saw, so to speak.

Post-post-listen reflection (what they really sound and look like):

Uh, Wikipedia starts off with this sentence: “Phoenix is a Grammy Award winning French alternative rock band from Versailles, founded by Thomas Mars, Deck d’Arcy, Christian Mazzalai and Laurent Brancowitz.” French!! Not British! I guess that explains the Napoleon-serenading then. Random interesting facts: They started off in a basement in Mars’ home in a Parisian suburb. They’re friends with Daft Punk and their songs have been used on Cougar Town, The Vampire Diaries and Entourage. Wow. (SELL OUT!! I kid, I kid.) And Wolfgang was their latest album from 2009… their next was a live album called iTunes from Soho. Hmm. (SELL OUT!! I kid, again.) Still, I think I was pretty spot-on about their placement. (Skinny dudes, vaguely smart aura. Dunno about the body musk, though.) Besides, Wolfgang was their mainstream breakthrough, according to AOL Music, who also said this – “The French group Phoenix draw elements from their eclectic ’80s upbringing to arrive at a satisfying synthesis of rock and synthesizers.” Yeah, I knew that.

And, here they are in GQ’s Men of the Year 2009 slideshow. Great photo! Love the colour tones.

Sharp suits, boys.

So the Phoenix dudes are (from left in the GQ shoot above) Christian Mazzalai, Deck D’Arcy and Laurent Brancowitz and Thomas Mars. They were originally “the backing band for a remix of Air’s ‘Kelly Watch the Stars’ single.” (Shallow Nation) Here they are, un-GQ-ed. Not too shabs.

Black and white can't go wrong

At Crystal Ballroom in Portland, 2010. You get to hear their cute French accent but beware the craaaazy lights. Woah.


Will I listen to this again? Yes I do think so! If anything, it’s cute and catchy. It probably won’t be at the top of my rotation though. Because of the placelessness.

Will put on music player? Maybe… maybe.

Posted in: Phoenix, Review