On Ti Amo, Phoenix sing about love and summer fun, pulling listeners into a world of their making
While Ti Amo doesn’t come close to being the cultural colossus that Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix was, its still a great introduction to Phoenix’s discography
Sometimes it’s the weather that makes you appreciate an album all the more, as it casts you back to an imagined ideal. Phoenix’s latest album, Ti Amo, has been out for over five months, but it took multiple listens in Mumbai’s prolonged, ever-extending monsoon for the group summer synths, to really take a hold. That’s because the album sole purpose seems to be to lighten the mood, harking back to days spent with the sun in ones eyes, and a season spent whiling away the days while dancing away the nights.
The French quartet, who started their careers making alternative rock, have over the course of their six albums moved towards a shimmering synth-filled sound, that the band perfected on 2009’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. On the album, the band are indebted to, “a fantasised version of Italy,” as their press note states, and it comes across, whether in the song titles — ‘Fior di Latte’, ‘Telefono’ and ‘Via Veneto’ to name a few — and the music videos for the singles. What this pan-European aesthetic translates to, is for example, the slow burning ode, ‘Fior de Latte’ with lyrics that are both laughable, but also oh so easy to get stuck in your head. Sample, “fior di latte, fior di latte/ Throw your weight around behind me/ Fior di latte, fior di latte/Don't think about it, trigger me happy”.
The lyrics to a Phoenix song have always been somewhat inscrutable seeing as how the band consists of four Frenchmen writing and singing in English, a language that they confess to not having grown up learning as well. Instead, the words serve as way for Mars to navigate cultural touchstones and personal memories, bring together the band’s love for classic rock, their deep knowledge of European music and a travellers ability to pick up and synthesise influences from their touring schedule. As a result, while the songs are ultimately about love and summer fun, they’re wrapped up in lyrics that name-check cities, musicians, food and drink and more, enveloping you in a specific universe of their making.
At a time when nostalgia has taken hold, its shouldn’t shock that Phoenix too, have plumbed their memories, to make an album that refracts a very particular Roman holiday.
It’s a change of pace for the band who’ first couple of albums were aching for an America that they had constructed from the music they used to listen to, and this album leaves listeners excited to see where the band go from here.
Where Phoenix consistently shines, is in the conjuring of a mood. In this case, its one of dappled sunlight and getting ready to party on dance floor dominated by schmaltzy Italo disco. There’s always an undercurrent of melancholy, some might call it ennui that runs through a Phoenix album, and its present here to. But the album fulfils its goal, of being a counterpoint to the terrorism and other worldly problems that have infiltrated Europe and the rest of the world.
On album opener, and first single ‘J-Boy’, there’s a sparkly quality the backing synths that sets the mood for the following nine songs. From there, the songs dig deeper into the album’s chosen sound, cresting during the chorus the aforementioned ‘Fior di Latte’. The arpeggios that characterise ‘Lovelife’ set the tone for the second half of the album. On album standout ‘Fleur de Lys’, the songs Balearic, propulsive beat calls out to be remixed for the dance floor, while instantly lifting the spirits of anyone who’s hearing it. That the next track, ‘Role Model’ returns to the bands alternative rock roots is a bonus that long-time fans will be pleased to discover.
What Phoenix have achieved, after six albums over 17 years, is the ability to consistently keep a smile on the listeners face, no matter where the four Frenchmen take their inspiration from. By translating their Gaelic cool and putting a distinctive stamp on their influences the band has managed to carve a niche for itself, and while Ti Amo doesn’t come close to being the cultural colossus that Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix was, its still a great introduction to Phoenix’s discography.
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