Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

8 Jan

Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

A simple piano theme begins playing. As it repeats, various synths enter, and the theme is embellished. Then the guitar enters: two notes, repeated. The sounds go on, swirling around and around for what seems like an eternity, building and building until a rhythm is gradually introduced. It keeps building, rising. Then it stops. More sounds begin, and a new rhythm is introduced, this time with a beat. The beat plays on, under what could actually be considered a repeated phrase of music. Again, it rises and rises, and just when it sounds like it’s going somewhere, it stops again, leaving a single drone. The drone leads into another phrase, a new rhythm. Then, when you least expect it, he begins to sing. Eight simple lines of lyrics. Then, the rhythm recedes again, and the song fades out.

Just what the hell am I going on about? Love Like a Sunset, a primarily instrumental, minimalist song in two parts, placed near the front of what would otherwise be considered a pop album. The album? Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, from the French quartet, Phoenix (ha). A question: what the hell are they thinking? What makes them believe that they could get away with putting a 7 ½-minute instrumental composition in the middle of their album (not to mention, giving the album such a ridiculous name)? They must think they’re something real special, and considering the dazzling collection of pop music that envelops Love Like a Sunset, it’s pretty hard to argue with them.

Wolfgang is Phoenix’s fourth full-length album. Their first two albums were well-received throughout Europe, while their third, It’s Never Been Like That, earned them critical acclaim in the US, but with this album, they truly broke through into international success. The album placed in the top 50 on charts from the US to Belgium to Australia. The mass appeal was mostly due to the surprise hit single 1901, which could be heard in car commercials and Mtvs everywhere in 2009. With such success, Phoenix became one of the all-too-rare bands to gain popularity not by major label promotion or obscene cultural saturation (what’s a single car commercial, after all?), but by writing damn good music. As far as damn good music goes, 1901 was certainly one of the damn-goodest songs of 2009. But the damn-goodness doesn’t stop there.

It starts with Lisztomania, the album’s fantastic opener (and as if it all wasn’t pompous enough: yes, it’s a song about Franz Liszt). From there it goes on to the irresistible 1901 to the swoony disco of Fences. The three songs combined are great enough to capture any listener, so the fourth track is as good a place as any to insert Love Like a Sunset. I think I’ve said enough about it, but I’ll add that it would be just as baffling anywhere else. After that, the album returns to the usual, finishing perfectly with five tracks that are every bit as lovely as those first three.

I’d pick a favorite from this collection, but it’s truly impossible. Each track has everything you could ask for in a great pop song; an infectious beat combined with sing-along melodies and super-catchy (however indecipherable) lyrics. As a whole, it’s pop music in its finest, most lovable form, and once it starts, it never lets up. The fact that Phoenix can write such great music with such consistency is a marvel to behold.

As for Love Like a Sunset, I’ll just have to let it be. Phoenix can do whatever they want. They earned it.

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Next time, I ask a friend if I can borrow In Bruges.

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