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Dead White Guys Reborn: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix Review

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Phoenix brings that je ne sais quoi to French indie pop with their latest offering, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, a hazy-hooked album of scenic sensibility propelled by hopeful guitar riffs. Informed both by the classical genius of Mozart and the rockstar-before-rockstar-was-a-word panache of Liszt, the band’s fourth record adroitly prances the borders between Jolly Rancher sassy pop and ambient new wave on synthy tiptoes. In the more admirable than drippy way, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix sounds as though it would work well in tandem with a 1980s John Hughes movie, Molly Ringwald lopsidedly smiling with vulnerably sweet teen heartache, by which I mean to say it evokes a sense of fawn-legged, open-hearted melancholy.

Opening with the finger-snappingly infectious single, “Lisztomania,” Phoenix leads into the slightly grittier but still bouncy “1901,” which incidentally came years after the deaths of both Mozart and Liszt. Many tracks off the album juxtapose this fanciful bounciness with rather saturnine lyrics. Take “Lasso,” for instance, which pulses amicably enough behind the voice of singer Thomas Mars wailing, “Forever is a long long time when you’ve lost your way. Trying to follow you, I feel a little sorry… Where would you go tied up to a lasso. Could you go into, could you run into, could you run into me?” It is this quality, this diametric opposition between style and lyrical composition, which is Phoenix’s greatest departure from previous albums. Where once Phoenix was light as Air, now the band evokes wistfulness.

The atmospheric “Girlfriend” is a musical montage punctuated by escalating dissonant banging, much like all of the relationships alluded to by Phoenix. Ultimately, the album is less a musical tribute to two great masters than the title is a metaphor for the bittersweet, complex-like-Mozart-colorful-like Liszt romance narrated by Phoenix. It is love that is un peu douloureux, un peu fantastique, and tres beau, as is the experience of listening to Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.

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About TracyOneill Tracy is a freelance writer based out of Brooklyn obsessed with nutritional supplements, mediocre music, audacious (to put it politely) apparel, literary giants, and perfecting the fine art of the Sunday Bloody Mary.

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