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Album Review: Phoenix’s ‘Ti Amo’

Variety logo Variety 6/9/2017 Jem Aswad
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“Ti Amo”


Phoenix’s music is a towering, grandiose pop confection, like some elaborate tiered cake or dollhouse or 18th century princess’ gown you’d come across on vacation in Europe — dazzling and detailed in its craft and execution, reveling in its essential artifice yet very serious about its art. The songs arrive like confetti blasts, with pulsating beats, intricately crafted hooks, sparkling synthesizers and haunting choruses. Even the titles sound like coffee flavors or expensive chocolates: “Tuttifrutti,” “Fleur de Lys,” “Fior Di Latte,” “Via Veneto.”

Yet none of that is to say it’s frivolous: The songwriting and production are intelligent, elaborate and aimed directly at the sweet spot in the brain that craves quality pop music (see John Seabrook’s excellent book “The Song Factory” for more on that concept) and inspires music critics to engage in equally flowery metaphors.

What makes the album’s joyous, effervescent vibe even more resonant is the fact that this Paris-based quartet recorded “Ti Amo” in the wake of the November 2015 Bataclan attacks, which cast a pall over the city and presumably brought this album some of its subtle, slightly bittersweet melodic undertow. That, and maybe a little career pressure as well. While the group’s 2009 album “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” spawned the worldwide hit “Lisztomania” and made the group into festival headliners, its 2013 follow-up “Bankrupt!” was widely considered a disappointment: Loud and brash and a little obnoxious, it came on too strong and tried too hard.

This one, however, is more measured and even-tempered, with the seasoning of experience and a calmer outlook. The group cruises through the album’s 10 songs like a sleek sports car, roaring out of the starting gate (“J-Boy”) and navigating smoothly through downtempo tracks and bangers, closing with the midtempo “Telefono,” in some ways the album’s strongest track, which finds singer Thomas Mars (a.k.a. Mr. Sophia Coppola)  shifting between English, French and broken Italian like a hopeful suitor trying to win over a girl who doesn’t speak any of those languages. Its indelible hooks and buzzing rhythm are a perfect closer to the album, like a smooth nightcap after a rousing night out.

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