Customer Reviews: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
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VINE VOICEon May 15, 2009
Phoenix are one of the greatest bands to come out of France in the last 15 years (along with Daft Punk and Air, two of my great musical loves, and several other bands that formed around the same time), and they are finally receiving some well-deserved attention. Phoenix just keep getting better, and they know it -- they love it, they exploit it, they bathe in its glory. Seriously, who else would have the "couilles" to title their fourth album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix? But it's justified. This album is pure shining genius from a band with a unique and creative sound, a gift that the American public is starved for in these vapid, manufactured Disney-pop times. I've been hooked on Phoenix since the moment I saw their "If I Ever Feel Better" video in 2001 while living in Paris. Over the past decade, Phoenix have continually reinvented their sound -- with undeniable cohesion and hat-tips to previous albums -- and WAP, their pièce de résistance, is no exception.

It helps in assessing the roots of WAP, their fourth album, to look back across Phoenix's discography. United (2000) was a bizarre yet pleasing amalgamation of insanely catchy pop gems, dark bluesy instrumentals, hollering garage rock, and smooth downtempo. (Interestingly, their "Too Young" single, from United, was featured in the night-on-the-town apartment scene in Lost in Translation; this was America's first real taste of Phoenix.) By contrast, their second album, Alphabetical (2004), had a far more cohesive sound: its synth-y, finger-tapping indie pop made for a crisp, solid album. Listening to Alphabetical, you likely thought, "Wow, Phoenix have really come into their own since United!" Then in 2006, on It's Never Been Like That, Phoenix came hurtling back to their garage rock ethos, and the faithful listener was surprised once again. INBLT was rougher, edgier, less synth-y, more raw sounding than Alphabetical. (It probably helped enhance INBLT's "garage rock" sound that Phoenix produced it at Planet Roc Studios in Berlin, a Cold War-era radio station/recording studio. When you listen to Phoenix's albums in succession, you can hear this distinct difference.)

So here we are with their fourth album, a gleaming culmination of all their previous efforts. WAP has deep, undeniable rock roots yet equally incorporates luscious synth and keyboard, thanks to the skillful Philippe Zdar (of Cassius fame), who produced WAP as well as United. You can particularly hear Zdar's influence on the nearly-danceable tracks "1901" and "Girlfriend," which are also the first two radio releases. The guitars are piquing, the keyboards lush and full, the drum kits ablaze; this continues for the album's entirety. The lyrics are -- in Phoenix's trademark way -- nonsensical at times, yet interspersed with luminous moments of double entendre. For those looking for thematic cohesion, you won't be disappointed: WAP contains some obvious historical references, including "Lisztomania," "Rome," and "Armistice," not to mention the name of the album itself.

My top favorites on this seriously head-bobbing album include "1901," "Lasso," and "Girlfriend." In actuality, though, I could list every song as a highlight, as there's not a bad one among them. Most listeners will also enjoy "Lisztomania" for its sheer catchiness; "Fences" for its falsetto harmonies and lyrical allegory; "Love Like a Sunset" (an extended version of the single "Twenty-One One Zero") for its soul-searching instrumental depths; and "Rome" for its sonic lookback at "Sometimes in the Fall" (from INBLT, 2006). Listening to WAP will make you feel good: most tracks are seriously upbeat. And, if you're anything like me, you'll feel fortunate that there are still bands out there capable of producing such masterworks.

I think all Phoenix fans will enjoy this amazing album, by far their best to date. If you most enjoyed Alphabetical, you'll love WAP's crisp, return-to-synth beats. By contrast, if you preferred the rougher sound of INBLT, you'll appreciate WAP's rock richness. Very highly recommended, even for fans new to Phoenix. (Most people would tell new fans to start at the beginning of their anthology, but I think it would be fine to start with WAP and go backwards if you wanted.) Absolutely brilliant work, this album.
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on June 5, 2009
Phoenix has been chugging along dutifully for years ever since their taste-making role in Lost in Translation's soundtrack, but fame has continued to elude the French foursome. Lost in Translation wasn't Garden State, and Phoenix certainly isn't the Shins, but despite Phoenix's ability to churn out irresistibly catchy pop singles, those same singles have never managed to translate into pop success. Maybe something was lost in translation over the Atlantic (sorry, I had to), but Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, their 4th major label effort, offers more than enough quirky synth-rock to finally give the band a hit on American shores.

The one-two punch of first single "Lisztomania" and "1901" that opens the record is the kind of combo that could prevent the rest of the album from being heard. Both are bouncy slices of indie rock guaranteed to get feet tapping: "Lisztomania" rides a jittery beat and vocalist Thomas Mars' oscillating vocals to a chorus perfectly memorable and perfectly simple, while "1901" mixes buzzing synths with a jangly chorus and a Mars' echoing refrain of "fallin'" that begs to be sung along to.

Previous listeners of Phoenix will find little difference initially between Wolfgang and their 2006 work, It's Never Been Like That. While most of Wolfgang retains Phoenix's relentless energy and effervescent melodies, the album as a whole feels more fleshed out, more organic sounding than INBLT, which at times sounded mechanical and clashing. "Fences" switches between a down-tempo disco groove and Mars' falsetto verses to a keyboard-heavy chorus with yet another on-the-money chorus, while on a song like "Lasso," Mars sounds more focused and natural than ever before, his habit of over-enunciating lessened and his versatile range exploited nicely. Speaking of "Lasso," not only does it have one of the best choruses on the record, the drums at the beginning always remind me of "Down With The Sickness." Very odd.

Perhaps most importantly, Wolfgang comes off as a very vibrant, modern-sounding record. Songs like the "Love Like A Sunset" duo and "Big Sun" sound like the stereophonic equivalent of a rainbow, full-bodied compositions that embrace a Wall-of-Sound production style but maintain Phoenix's dedication to keeping it relatively danceable, resulting in something fresh in the group's rather tired oeuvre. "Love Like A Sunset," in particular, is about as experimental as Phoenix are likely to get, the first part coming off as what a band like Explosions in the Sky might sound like with a more defined sense of rhythm and an interest in `80s pop while the second resolves all the tension in a potent wave of major-key harmonies.

"Rome" follows in much the same vein as "Love Like A Sunset," matching a sparkling layer of sound and the album's best lyrics together into Wolfgang's most fully realized tune. The metaphor of Rome's downfall with the end of a relationship paired with the shimmering cascade of guitar make the song an obvious highlight.

The only nagging problem with the record, and it's one with Phoenix's discography in general, is the lyrical content, which is more often than not nonsensical and incomprehensible. "Lisztomania" opens up with Mars yelping "so sentimental / not sentimental no! / romantic not disgusting yet / darling I'm down and lonely," while the chorus cryptically continues "think less but see it grow . . . I'm not easily offended / it's not hard to let it go / from a mess to the masses." English not being their first language, though, it's hard not to forgive the band and instead admire Mars' frequently clever vocal stylings.

After the epic productions of "Rome" and "Big Sun," the closing songs almost seem to pale in comparison. "Girlfriend" is an acceptable pop/rock ditty that, on its own, would be a well above-average song on any band's record, but at the tail end of this one, brings nothing new to the table. Closer "Armistice" boasts some nifty drum work and another excellent chorus breakdown, but its abrupt ending and overall sameness seems like an ill-fitting conclusion to such a stunning album.

And stunning it is. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is surely the high point of this band's decade-long career, a finely-crafted, tightly-performed collection of concise, vivid dance-rock that rarely misses a beat and shows Phoenix willing to grow beyond the structural boundaries they seemed to impose on themselves with It's Never Been Like That. Who says France never gave us anything good?
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on March 28, 2011
I'll admit it, I became a fan of Phoenix after hearing 1901 on their Cadillac commercial. However, I really enjoyed the layering of effects in that song, that make the song so enjoyable even after several hundred plays. So I downloaded the complete album on my Zune pass and had a listen... and another, and another. I probably listened to the album for a week straight at work while coding.

This album exemplifies a very extraordinary talent of meshing all kinds of different instruments, both string and electronic together, and having what comes out not become an indiscernible mess of noise. As an example "Rome" which uses both slow and fast tempo interludes really capture the essence of the album. They are a French band, but you wouldn't know it by listening to Thomas Mars' effortless serenades. It's hard to compare his style, but it is reminiscent of Incubus' Brandon Boyd or The Strokes' Julian Casablancas, it just flows with the music. What is a rather remarkable feat is that they don't actually have a drummer in the band, but Thomas Hedlund apparently fills for their live gigs along with another blonde headed guy that I do not know the name of. For their album I am not sure who plays, but I'm guessing Hedlund did, he is a very impressive talent.

I had the chance to see them in Austin at a small venue just as they were hitting their stride on the U.S. music charts, at a sold out Stubb's. The concert did not disappoint, this band is just as good (if not better) live than they are on album. Their passion really shows on the stage even while touring, as they really get into the music and truly enjoy being creative. It is by far the best concert I've seen if you are into alternative rock.

Honestly, give this album quite a few listens, and focus on all of the separate things going on and you can truly appreciate the musical talent to create some of their titles.
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on June 2, 2011
Frankly the description sums it up perfectly. Better than their second album. Equal to if not better than their first. Every bit as good - except for the "nostalgia factor" that those of us who have been with the band since the very beginning feel. Just a really really catchy album full of perfect songs that mix electronica with acoustic and analog sounds to their benefit, as opposed to just for commercial reasons. As always there are a few 'throw-away songs' on here. Hence the four stars versus five. I am hoping one day to give Phoenix FIVE stars. They are one of the best bands in the world today regarding their compositions; and i am SURE one day this will happen.
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on May 26, 2013
It sounds like their first album, but more in minor key. It still has its upbeat tempos and a little soulful with one of its tracks (soulful on the computer generated side). I prefer playing this album on cheap stereo because it sounds clearer and you don't get a lot of feedback from the electronic synthesizers as you would on a larger sounding stereo system. You won't be disappointed if you buy this cause it still sounds like their previous release, just new songs. However, if you're looking for them to really blow you away with something new... its not happening in this CD and I am fine with that because its still good noise. ALSO, the lyrics have improved greatly on this CD since their last album. Last album was a little bit too much like David Bowie and the way he would use computer generated lyrics... they didn't always make sense if you paid attention. However David Bowie's made more sense than Phoenix's did in their last album. I guess that is what helps make their songs more carefree cause you can't take the lyrics seriously... that's another reason why I say "Its still good noise"
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on January 7, 2013
There are some great tracks on this album, more than I thought there'd be, anyway. Overall this is a really solid album that does get a bit repetitive and is a little too reliant on vocals, some of the best parts are strictly rhythmic and make you wish they'd expounded upon them a bit more.
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on October 30, 2013
I say a pop album, although it isn't emblematic of today's (or 2009's) pop scene. If it were the pop scene would be much brighter and more credible.

The album is fairly upbeat, heavy on the electronica/synthesized beats, and eminently dance-able. The whole album clocks in at under 40 minutes, which is almost a nice throwback to the days of the original LP's. And I keep using the term "album," because this really does play like an album--meant to be listened to from beginning to end, which again is almost throwback concept in today's landscape of pervasive singles downloading.

If you are not familiar with Phoenix outside of their hit "1901," don't stress. If you like(d) "1901" you will almost assuredly like this album. If you didn't, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix may not be for you, but it is such a good effort that you might do yourself a favor by giving it a listen anyways, just to see if you don't change your mind.
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on March 13, 2011
The Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix CD is a very good CD for Christian music listeners of Alternative Christian music. There is one song that is played on the internet radio a lot on this CD and at least three or four pretty good dance tunes. This is my second favorite CD of the bunch of CDs that I purchased from
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on January 1, 2015
Great album from a group that keeps getting better and better. I was pulled into them years ago while watching "Lost in Translation" and their song "Too Young" was featured in that party scene. Since then, I've been hooked.
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on August 31, 2009
This latest album by Phoenix is absolutely superb, if not nearly flawless. I first heard the song "Rome" while I was at Barnes and Noble the other day and I immediately said to myself, "Man, I gotta find out who sings this song!" It didn't take me long to find out, since I happened to be right next to the music section. Found out immediately from the clerk that it was Phoenix, did a trial listen to the others songs, and said, "That's it! I'm buying it right now!"
This is just one of the aspects that makes this album so amazing--it's seemingly instant addictive appeal. Another amazing aspect about this album, which is very rare these days, is the fact that there are ABSOLUTELY NO FILLERS!! EVERY LAST SONG COULD EASILY BE A GREATEST HIT!! And just when you thought they didn't make such records like they used to.
Describing what Phoenix sound like on this album, is somewhat of a challenge, since their sound is rather unique. The best way I can describe the sound is a cross between an electronic voice of Paul McCartney, a little bit of synth rock of "The Killers", mixed with the incredible lush pop sounds of early eighties ELO (Electric Light Orchestra, for those too young to remember), yet mixed with a sound that is all their own.
There is really not much more I can say, except that I highly recommend this album to everyone. If anyone is missing the days when albums did not have any fillers and bands that actually had exceptional talent, then go ahead and buy this album. The Phoenix has risen, and will not disappoint.
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