Phoenix ‘Ti Amo’ – Review

19 Jun

In this time of massive social disharmony and political upheaval, there has inevitably been an increase in bands commenting on the big issues. Whether it’s through their interaction with the media, superficial lyrics or genuinely deep engagement, the upsurge has been notable. But Phoenix have made a point of looking past the current political situation. They spent a couple of years recording their new album ‘Ti Amo’ in Paris, during what was obviously a tumultuous time. They have described their record as “a safe haven we kind of built subconsciously for our own sanity”, which is either wilfully ignorant or beautifully defiant depending on your point of view. But surely Phoenix’s romanticised, inclusive, idealistic world view is worth indulging in – now more than ever. This is an album that celebrates simple pleasures and honest emotions. An album inspired by “Roman summers, jukeboxes on the beach, antique marble statues, hyper light, hyper clarity and pistachio gelato.” Decadent? Perhaps. But lush escapism is as valid as any other reaction.

Despite these admirable aims, ‘Ti Amo’s successes are mixed. Their last album was released four years ago, and so the meandering opening track and lead single ‘J Boy’ arrived as a bit of a damp squid. The song does eventually squelch its way in to your memory though, and likewise the album is something of an understated slow burner. Like the gelato they so lovingly describe in the title track’s lyrics, these are songs that gradually melt over you. The hotter the weather, the faster they will melt. The reverb drenched guitars, sun kissed synths and elastic rhythms of ‘Fleur de Lys’ and ‘Tutti Frutti’ are infectious, even if the half baked lyrics fail to penetrate. The pace slows to a sweet mush on ‘Fior di Latte’ and ‘Goodbye Soleil’, two songs that betray the massive influence of Italo Disco and French new wave pop. And as nice as these numbers are, they’re so laid back they’re almost sideways. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful that ‘Ti Amo’ is more chill than the bombastically mixed and tightly wound ‘Bankrupt’, an album so exhausting it felt like your ears were being crushed, but the better songs are the more urgent, upbeat moments such as ‘Lovelife’ and ‘tuttifruiti’.

The album’s second half is somewhat more disparate and de-spirited. ‘Role Model’ is the most uncharacteristic song on the album, with a ghostly organ clashing with sparkling beats. The song’s refrain unfortunately recalls the irresistible ‘Rome’, serving only to draw attention the new new track’s failings. ‘Via Veneto’ is a short, sparse synth number that goes nowhere. ‘Telefona’ reminds me of a recent Strokes track called ‘Threat of Joy’, which also made use of retro, down-stroked strums, cutesy synths and a one sided, conversational spoken word introduction. It’s telling that Phoenix music once echoed the Strokes very finest material and they often came over as The Strokes more sharply dressed, continental cousins. Here they are rebounding off one of the more forgettable song’s in that band’s discography.

Don’t get me wrong, ‘Ti Amo’ is a pleasant and inoffensive record. And I have no doubt whatsoever that it would sound glorious coming through those jukebox speakers, on a beach in the Roman Summer. But this is England, and however much you try and close you mind to it, bombs are going off and buildings are burning down. Ultimately, ‘Ti Amo’ fails to transport me anywhere. In brief moments, as Thomas Mars’ romantic French accent utters lovestruck Italian come ons, I’m nearly there, on that beach – but I’m never fully transported. The hooks just not hooky enough. The choruses just not persuasive enough. I vividly remember the first time I heard ‘Wolfganag Amadeus’. Every hook dug deep instantly and intensely. I went back for a second helping and didn’t stop returning for months. I mention this because after hearing ‘Ti Amo’ for the first time, I didn’t return to it, or want to, for several days. It’s lethargic, chilled out atmosphere and lazy melodies just weren’t speaking to me. They are never going to make an album as good as ‘Wolfgang Amadeus’, Recapturing lightning in a bottle is surely impossible, but as they coast down that Roman Summer highway, you feel like Phoenix could try just a little harder than this.

6.5/10

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