Phoenix have always excelled at writing fun and synth-laden indie pop. They’re not the deepest band or the most the experimental – you could hardly label them with that word at all – but they’ve always been good at what they do. While some bands feel the need to shake up their sound with every new release, Phoenix, it seems like to stick to the ‘If it ain’t broken’ adage.
2009’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix was in many ways a defining album for them, being incredibly fun and featuring killer singles such as ‘Lisztomania’ and ‘1901’. While their earlier albums weren’t bad, Wolfgang was definitely a lot more focused and consistent. The album that followed it Bankrupt! was quite a bit weaker, feeling slightly like a rehash (while not being as consistently good). Now the band is back again four years later with Ti Amo – an album that falls somewhere in between their last two in terms of quality…
Though the album takes the band in a more bass heavy and even more synth heavy direction, I’d still say it’s pretty much Phoenix being Phoenix. Recorded all the way back in 2014, Ti Amo takes a lot of inspiration from Italian culture – just look at the song titles – and overall feels like a homage to romanticised European countries (like, obviously, Italy.) It’s Phoenix’s most unabashedly romantic album and that’s saying something for a band that’s always been unabashedly romantic. Opener ‘J-Boy’ (which stands for ‘Just Because Of You’) sets this romantic tone, with the song’s main character singing of all the things he’s done for his love. It features some of the album’s best lyrics and is bursting with personality. The synths on this track are particularly great – pretty much exploding on choruses.
The following two tracks, ‘Ti Amo’ and ‘Tuttifrutti’ have the same disco feel as the opener – though they definitely lose a lot of ‘J-Boy’ lyrical strength. ‘Ti Amo’ pretty much gets a pass from me due to its fantastic bass-y groove, while ‘Tuttifrutti’ is a bit more so-so. The sickly-sweet synths are a bit too much on this song and Thomas Mars’ enthusiasm doesn’t stop the lyrics as coming across as more-or-less gibberish.
Much of the album sticks to bass and synth stylings of these three tracks and the band do a commendable job of keeping things feeling fresh… The album never quite reaches the same highs as its opener ‘J-Boy’, but there’s still a lot of other great songs. ‘Goodbye Soleil’ is downright gorgeous – Thomas Mars’ French singing on the choruses is a particular highlight – ‘Fleur De Lys’, despite some ridiculous lyrics (‘I’m a Siberian tiger terrorising your neighbour’) has a lot of energy to it, and ‘Via Veneto’ has a great spaced-out melancholy feel to it. I also really enjoyed ‘Role Model’, which has a definite darker tone compared to most of the album. Though the lyrics keep the subject-matter fairly vague, the song feels like it has a political edge to it, with Mars singing about an untrustworthy ‘role model’ figure.
Closer ‘Telefono’ brings back the album’s romantic tone, focusing on Mars’ real life marriage with actress Sofia Coppola. Though the song is a bit cheesy – well, a lot cheesy – it does a good job of summing up what the band try to achieve with Ti Amo is a whole: creating a fun, romantic and summery record. It isn’t a deep album and I don’t think it’s supposed to be. Ti Amo isn’t an album that pushes Phoenix forward in any way but rather plays to their strengths. It’s by no means an incredible album, but it is a fun one.
Best Tracks: ‘J-Boy’, ‘Ti Amo’, ‘Goodbye Soleil’.