There was a point where all I knew of French music was Maurice Chevalier, Jacques Brel, Serge Gainsbourg, and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, a movie so perfect in its beauty I can barely contain myself. It stars Catherine Deneuve, and the only lyric I can ever remember was her thin little voice pleading with her lover “je t’aime, je t’aime” incessantly over the first part of the movie. If you haven’t seen it, go do so. It’s simply the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.
This, of course, has very little to do with Phoenix.
There is a brightness to Phoenix, a pop sensibility that has matured to near perfection. They are a band that has only improved with each album, getting closer to creating the ultimate indie pop masterpiece. They came damn close with Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. The best part- they’re French and singing in English, creating an obscure but delightful lyrical sensibility.
For instance, “Lisztomania” was an actual term, used by Heinrich Heine to describe the insanity of the Franz Liszt fandom back in 1844. And we all that this insanity began with Elvis. The band constantly refers to the fact that art can create a powerful impact on a person, and that when over taken by the strange phenomenon of syndromes like Lisztomania or the similar Stendhal Syndrome, the only solution is to “Burn the pictures instead”. They wrap it in such a bouncy little melody, and with such out there lyrics, it’s instantly memorable. I took this blog’s name from this song: ” I’m not easily offended/ It’s not hard to let it go from a mess to the masses”.
Of course, “1901”, Thomas Mars’ self professed love song to the Paris of old, is the albums best known track, dropped into TV car adverts and movie soundtracks and – well, let’s face it, it’s a fantastic song. Bright shiny pop songs this good deserve to be heard by any means necessary.
Thomas Mars and the band grew up in Versailles, so history weighs heavily on them purely by accident. It is an obsession of this album- Franz Liszt? Old Paris? Armistice? The last of these, the title of the last track, is not a song about any history per say, but the use of this word over “Compromise” is telling. It’s a song about lovers compromising to make it through the day. Sometimes it’s really that simple.
There is the gentle keyboard and galloping drums of “Girlfriend”, the grand sound scape of “Fences”, the thumps and steadiness of “Rome”, the chiming cymbals that open “Countdown”. The album is a fast and furious pop machine, it never lets up for a second.
The careful wordplay and rhyme scheme, created by someone who speaks English as a second language, surrounded by songs at once streamlined but chaotic. It’s a mess of contradictions, but remains perfect in spite of it all.