Release Date: May 23, 2006
Record label: Astralwerks / Source
Genre(s): Indie, Rock, Electronic
After avoiding the sophomore slump with relative ease, Phoenix return with their third release stripped of the post-disco house sound that helped to define them, focusing more on the songwriting side of things than any sort of dancefloor-focused groove. In fact, it takes until the fourth song, "Long Distance Call," for anything resembling a dancefloor beat to appear, and when it does it feels like an epilogue to the wonderful "If I Ever Feel Better" off the group's debut record. The band has definitely learned a thing or two through its evolution, placing more of an emphasis on guitar than before (Laurent Brancowitz and Christian Mazzalai sound as if they've been in the woodshed studying the chops of Johnny Marr and the twin-guitar attack of the Strokes' last few records), and their performances sound more confident than ever.
The minor ground tremor that is the MOR revival was anticipated by Phoenix, who dedicated themselves to smooth drivetime sounds as long ago as 2000. With the genre in the ascendant, Phoenix's prospects are brighter than when they were merely a French quartet with weirdly retro tastes. Their Versailles origins, by the way, are completely undetectable, jaunty singer Thomas Mars achieving word-perfect American intonations and the rest of the group playing as if they learned their craft from 1970s Cars albums.
Most people fell for French group Phoenix thanks to their first single, “Too Young.” A perfectly poised example of pop songwriting, it sounded at first audition like a misplaced pop artifact, a knowing, exacting tribute to 1980s synthetics. In reality, it was closer to 1970s soft pop brushed up with 1980s production techniques, thus providing an alternate-reality history where the 1970s pop met up with an economics of production equal to its content. That Phoenix would leave such studied maneuvers behind with their second album Alphabetical was no real loss, given they turned in an album that let their songs breathe outside of temporal referents.