PhoenixThere are many groups who make music so simplistic that it’s easy for most to assume that they have heard it somewhere before. However, to make music in such a fashion and do it in a way that makes it at once both unique and memorable is a feat that most bands can only dream of achieving. Since they released their first album in 2000, the French men in Phoenix have achieved this momentous task several times, but have taken it in stride. This was especially highlighted on their 2006 breakthrough (of sorts), It’s Never Been Like That. The group has always had a knack for writing songs that stick with you for days on end, and there is nary an exception to the rule on their fourth album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.

Album opener, “Lisztomania”, sets a very high bar for the rest of the record, as it is easily one of the best songs that I have heard so far this year. An alternating two note piano part gives way to an instantly memorable guitar hook, with the rest of the band slowly joining in with Thomas Mars’s vocals. Mars has one of the most laid back voices in all of rock music; it sounds very natural, and is almost soothing to hear. The lyrics on Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix seem simple on first listen, but they are also very layered, with multiple interpretations of what exactly Mars is trying to convey. There is a lot of repetition within the choruses, which can be overbearing or gimmicky with some groups, but with Phoenix, it all feels like it is there for a reason. “1901”, another standout track and the albums second song, brings to the table lyrics about looking to the past and present for ideas, amid a prominent synth line and tight guitar work. Like its predecessor, it is a hook laden affair, and one that has immense staying power. This displays Phoenix’s undeniable ability to craft extremely well thought out pop songs. Other standout tracks include the more love oriented songs “Fences” and “Girlfriend”, each with their own unique charms.

One of the things that strike me most about Phoenix is how tight they are as a band. All of the guitar notes are in the right place, the drums provide just the right amount of punch, and the bass is never too overdone on any of the albums ten songs. This is especially highlighted on the instrumental “Love like a Sunset Part I.” For the first four minutes or so, the synth and guitars build upon each other until finally the rhythm section joins in to bring an overall sense of cohesiveness to the song. Despite there being no vocals, one is still left with the same good feeling that can be conjured up from any of the other songs here, and it is a testament to how comfortable the members of the band are with themselves as musicians.

It is likely that a decent number of people will say that the band is playing it a bit too safe this time around, and that their sound has remained largely the same since they first started making music. While this can be a turn off for some, the kind of simplistic music presented here is done so well and so consistently that Phoenix doesn’t have to dabble in experimentation in order to remain a reputable band. They are simply doing something that they have become extremely good at doing, and that is making pop songs. My only criticism with the album is that it is all over much too quickly. At only ten songs, and clocking in at less than 37 minutes, it is safe to assume that the album could have benefitted from one or two more songs, especially considering that it is all A-Quality material. A lot of albums seem to suffer from being too long, or having too many unnecessary songs. Quite the opposite is going on here.

In short, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is another excellent album from start to finish by the French popsters. Everything that worked so well in their first three outings, from the tight instrumentation to their knack for making a hook, is present and accounted for on album number four, and in many ways is magnified by several times. Phoenix make pop music look so easy, and with their recent performance on Saturday Night Live before the album’s release, one can only hope that the American public will agree. They wholeheartedly deserve the attention. This is easily one of the best albums that I have heard so far this year, and I urge everyone to at least give it a try. You will be glad you did.