With appearances on the Lost in Translation and Marie Antoinette soundtracks, Phoenix, in recent years, gained recognition as the darlings of the indie movie scene. The group, originally from Versailles, but now residents of a posh area in Paris, has released four remarkable albums (three in the studio, one live effort) in the past six years. Their latest studio release, It’s Never Been Like That, is a confection of a record that demonstrates the band’s quirky artistry. The album as a whole sounds like pop that’s on the radio today, only better. From plucky guitars to power chords, from rattling drums to persistently pretty rhythms, Phoenix deconstructs mainstream pop and returns it to the listener funkier and fresher.
It’s Never Been Like That, the successor to the breakthrough Alphabetical, is part dance record, part the moody reflections of the dashing lead singer, and all fun. Thomas Mars’ lead vocals, gentle when they need to be, aggressive when necessary, invite the listener to engage in conversation with a keen, upbeat, and utterly alluring French gentleman. He snarls (with polite detachment, as only those French men can) on the CD’s opener “Napoleon Says” that, “You do expect a messiah/You want to be European/I would be your Bonaparte.” The cheeky and engaging song segues into an entire record of well crafted tunes, as catchy as they are clever. “Consolation Prizes,” one of the album’s singles, is a disjointed, giddy ride that shines as an album standout. “Rally” plays slyly with words and with melody, the shimmying guitars underscore the boy’s plans to get lucky while standing in the picket line. The dramatic swells of “Courtesy Laughs” and rocking guitar work of “Sometimes in the Fall” round out the CD, with a five minute instrumental intermezzo of sorts, “North,” in between.
The record, as a whole, represents a band with a unique stylistic take on the music scene. Each song is a delight, each is very different, but in the end they are cohesive. It’s Never Been Like That is a delectable soundscape by a promising band, and I look forward to what’s next from Phoenix.