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November 08, 2006

Phoenix – It's Never Been Like That

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For me, there couldn’t be a better time for a band like Phoenix to be entering my playlist. Here in Auckland, the sun is beginning to shine a little more, exams are almost over and I’ve got a whole summer to look forward to (sorry, I won’t milk it any more). This album was rather handily released back in May in time for the Northern summer but it’s only recently that I’ve really got to appreciate just how good it is.

Phoenix started out back when Air were getting big (and in fact spent some time as Air’s backing group) with Moon Safari, and their first two albums United (2000) and Alphabetical (2004) concentrated on the electronic/guitar pop their French contemporaries were famous for, but with a more direct band approach. You’ve probably inadvertently heard them through Lost In Translation (the singer Thomas Mars is dating Sofia Coppola) and the delightful song Too Young, a great example of this vibrant sound. The latest album doesn’t bring a total reverse of this straightforward approach, but instead you can hear the guitars are harder, the rhythms are tougher and it feels a lot more revitalised with an exciting level of energy that tended to be absent from most of previous album tracks.

The album kicks off with the shrill guitar alarm of Napoleon Says and doesn’t let up with the guitar hooks all the way through the album (with the exception of the tepid instrumental North which rather thankfully segues into the giddy blast of Sometimes in the Fall). The European connection is decidedly evident, characterised by Thomas Mars’ slight inflections and accent. Various lines are dotted with sly ‘huh’s that on paper may sound horribly pretentious (in the hands of someone like Jet, heaven forbid) but end up rather sweet and endearing. Another obvious touchpoint would have to be The Strokes, dealing in the same chugging guitar delivery but then nothing in the NYC-ians’ recent output can match the pop brilliance and innocence of something like Consolation Prizes or Courtesy Laughs.

Here are some of my favourite cuts from the album:

Phoenix – Rally MP3 Expired
It’s not a song that really hit me first but it’s one of the songs where there are just parts of the vocal I love. Particularly in the second verse where he croons “Teeeeee-easin’ me”. Gets me every time.

Phoenix – Long Distance Call MP3 Expired
This immediately follows Rally and ends a pretty much perfect first four songs that the two songs afterwards suffer a little for it. The keyboards return for this track but only in subtle touches. A perfect pop crescendo to finish it off as well.

Phoenix – Second to None MP3 Expired
The track that closes off the album, and the taut rhythms here lock into each other so perfectly you almost forget that one guitar has just been playing one note for the past 90 seconds. It doesn’t matter anyway because it’s another brilliant pop song, and a brilliant ending to what I think is a brilliant album. \\

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