Aside from being one of the finest pop albums of 2009, it’s also more than likely that you won’t hear a more joyful album all year. Phoenix have always had an earnest feeling to their work, the result of four guys enjoying the tunes they’re playing. Their music sincerely and politely invites you out onto the dance floor to join in on the fun, rather than being a surly imploration, afraid that a less than positive response to their pandering will result in failure. It’s this same straightforwardness that beckons new listeners (previously naïve towards anything electronic) to partake as well, completely uninhibited by genres or specific labels. Fun is fun, regardless of what it sounds like.
This is the sort of thing that made Phoenix’s older songs work so well, including the nine and a half-minute, largely instrumental “Funky Squaredance”; synthy, heavily-percussed tracks like “Everything is Everything” and “Run Run Run”; and the subtle transitions into more concise, more self-aware songwriting on It’s Never Been Like That. As vastly diverse as their music has been, the unifying thread has always been their sheer enjoyment of the craft and the resulting happiness for both the band and the listener.
Not only does this remain intact on Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, it’s perfected. “Lisztomania” bolts out of the front gates with a rapidly-firing piano, punchy drums and Thomas Mars’ lush vocals, “So sentimental/Not sentimental, no!”. You can almost feel the same hysteria for which the song is named bubbling from an excited crowd. “1901” sustains, and furthers, the momentum throughout; its syncopated keyboards and guitars essentially stretching out and varying themes from the previous song. From here, it’s Phoenix on cruise control. “Fences” introduces a hint of disco mixed with effortlessly soaring chords and vocals. “Lasso” recalls Strokes-style guitars over churning rhythm sections. “Armistice” concludes the album with a smattering of melancholy, both in the music as well as the realistic portrayal of love lyrically.
Perhaps the biggest accomplishment on the album is the nearly eight-minute long “Love is Like a Sunset”. It appears approximately halfway through the record, and seems to interrupt a consistent flow of music for a slow, trickling of notes before building accompaniments and drums resolve the minor-keyed fray for a beautiful resolve, “Day comes/A visible illusion/Oh where it starts it ends/Love like a sunset”, and the album goes along its way.
Wolfgang… is, really, the album Phoenix was supposed to make. Each of their previous efforts had improved upon the last, leaving a fairly high threshold that the band has ended up clearing rather assuredly. This is a group that has congealed so impressively you might forget they’re French and singing in their second tongue. But no matter the language, the music sounds great.