Music Reviews
Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

Phoenix Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

(Glassnote) Rating - 8/10

Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix shares a few similarities with MGMT’s 2008 breakthrough debut, Oracular Spectacular, but the biggest one is that they are both singles albums. And like Oracular, Wolfgang’s singles are so flat-out awesome, they deceive you into thinking the album is better than it really is.

Wolfgang is also frontloaded, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the second half is dispensable. These four French students of Daft Punk dancetronica manage to keep the album lean and, most importantly, interesting until the very end. Unlike MGMT, which opted to salute influences like the Bee Gees and David Bowie, Phoenix have their dance floor sights set on the garage rock sound of the Strokes, which incidentally meshes perfectly with the band’s synth-soaked neon style.

But the big news about Wolfgang is in the first three tracks, which are three stunning, unique daggers that burrow into the soles of your shoes until you are forced to get up and dance. First off is Lisztomania, which actually has a sort of Springsteen element to it, what with the distant, chugging guitars and the breeze-in-your-hair propulsion of the rhythms. 1901 follows next, which really breaks out Room on Fire for reference, injecting a rock swagger into the perfect dance beat and somehow topping the opening track. The lyrics make no mistake about it, either: “It’s 20 seconds ‘til the last call, going ‘hey hey hey hey hey hey'” pretty much sums up all the inspiration you would ever need or want from a song like this. But Fences, the third song, goes even further, and is the album’s clear and present showcase track. The song is seductively paced and blooming with sparkling synthesizers all over the place, while singer Thomas Mars borrows the falsetto of MGMT’s Electric Feel and reinvents it as pure, unadulterated pop candy.

Fourth track Love Like a Sunset, for all its patient, subtle textures, deadens Wolfgang’s momentum right in its tracks. Maybe the hypothetical upbeat track on a Nine Inch Nails record, it’s Phoenix’s Debbie Downer in a way. Mostly within the context of the rest of the album, it’s caught in a swamp at over seven and a half minutes. On an album for the ADHD-inflicted, this simply won’t do.

As much as you want them to, Phoenix never reaches the perfection of those first three tracks again on Wolfgang. The tracks that follow Love Like a Sunset are quite good, particularly the bouncy Lasso, but they have a threshold, a bar that’s set slightly lower for some reason. You could come away from Wolfgang remembering only the opening third and still enjoy it – that is what makes it deceiving.

Phoenix are by no means a new act, but Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix offers them the highest internet buzz and recognition they’ve received in their decade-long career, and with good reason. It offers up a new level of accessibility for potential fans, and you know what? Accessibility and Phoenix go great together! Honestly, so what if Wolfgang isn’t a complete effort, or a thoroughly-magnificent album? Very few dance albums are, and in the end, that’s what Phoenix created – a dance album, possibly the most enjoyable one since Oracular Spectacular.