Music Review: Phoenix's 'Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix' Has Peppy 1970s Pop Music

Tuesday, May 26, 2009



Phoenix is shamelessly smitten with the low-impact pop of the 1970s.

After all, that was the last era when a group of sensitive, sweet-voiced French boys with a love of crossover disco and beards-and-loafers soft-rock could have possibly become international superstars.

The new "Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix" is as close to a straight-up guitar-rock record as Phoenix has yet made, abandoning many of the airy electronic trappings of the band's earlier work. Despite his reputation as a French house music legend, producer Philippe Zdar has helped Phoenix make the year's most immediately likable tribute to peppy new wave.

Even at their most agitated, on the lightly fuzzy riff of "1901" or the nervy little hook of "Armistice," Phoenix guitarists Laurent Brancowitz and Christian Mazzalai sound like they were booted from heavier bands for being insufficiently angry. Thomas Mars sings like a stylish Gallic gadabout content to chase doomed flings from club to cafe and back again. You can't imagine a Phoenix song that's furious or despairing or ebullient. You can, however, imagine the band writing wistful, unfashionably laid-back lost-love songs well into retirement age.

Phoenix does find room for a few surprises. The long, nearly wordless "Love Like a Sunset" incorporates both an entry-level take on Steve Reich's minimalism and sunny acoustic balladeering from the Loggins and Messina school. Mostly, though, "Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix" is pretty and insubstantial -- which makes it a success for a band that exalts the summertime trifles of AM radio's past.

Phoenix performs at the Rock & Roll Hotel June 21.

-- Jess Harvell

DOWNLOAD THESE: "1901," "Girlfriend"

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