Politically inter-country relations may have been a little strained in Europe of late, but culturally French four-piece Phoenix is bringing the love for their neighbours with a love letter to Italy. The title of the band's sixth album says it all really, Ti Amo, literally translates, as "I love you", it's a phrase that's one of the most heartfelt in the Italian language. The question is why has Phoenix chosen the sun drenched beaches of southern Europe as its muse this time? 2013's Bankrupt" had occasional undercurrents of social commentary, at first glance its follow-up feels decidedly more frivolous and disposable. Perhaps though, amongst all the doom and gloom an album with this lightness of touch is exactly what we all need.
Over the course of 36 minutes and 10 songs this brisk and energetic record wastes no time in shifting Phoenix's sound towards the dance floor and further away from the guitar led songs of their earlier work. Yes, there are more programmed beats here and the songs are lavished in electronic synths, but the mood they create is just as infectious as any of Phoenix's past successes. At times you can more clearly see the link between Phoenix and fellow French band Air, it's no surprise that in their earliest days they supported that duo. Thomas Mars and his band mates could be seen as following a path into indie-disco taken by bands like The Killers before them, but I suspect that it's a move that won't be seen as egregious by long-standing fans. That's for one simple reason, Phoenix sound comfortable with their new sound and certainly don't overstretch themselves here.
You'd also imagine that guitarist Laurent Brancowitz would have less to do, but his presence is felt throughout in subtle ways. His guitar underpins the title track 'Ti Amo' and is just as memorable as the beats themselves, similarly 'Goodbye Soliel' allows Brancowitz to explore a more funk-inspired type of playing that he excels at. It's actually Thomas Mars' lyrics, which come across as the most straightforward thing on the album as he sings about the summer, gelato, and standing by the jukebox with champagne or prosecco. He's obviously concentrating on crafting those choruses rather than an underlying and more subversive message. If there's a criticism to make it's that the album is all polish and sheen without something more substantial underneath.
Maybe that's the point though; maybe the simple joy of a sunshine soaked Italian summer adventure is a deliberate two-fingered salute to the current social and political atmosphere. If you subscribe to this reading of Ti Amo, you need look no further that 'Fleur de Lys', its title referring to an all inclusive symbol or religious, political, and artistic ideology in French culture. "I'll always be an outsider" Mars sings on this track, perhaps this is Phoenix's very subtle interpretation of the ideals set out by a punk ideology.
Regardless of how deeply you want to delve into Phoenix's newly adopted aesthetic, it's fun. There's a lot to be said for that, and a lot of album's engineered for the charts seem to forget that key ingredient, which is effortlessly infused throughout this album. Ti Amo may struggle to stand alongside some of those earlier records on deeper inspection, but there's an infectious charm that ensures that it's worth your time.
Listen to the latest single 'Goodbye Soleil'
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