In the terms of pop music, Phoenix might be considered a one-album wonder. The French alternative rock outfit scored big with their 2009 album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix and sugary electro-rock hits “1901,” and “Lisztomania.” But the funny thing about Phoenix is that their breakthrough success was a total fluke. Not because their music was never worthy of being liked, far from it. Phoenix have been making bright, funky, jangly alt-rock since the new millennium, it just took about a decade for the rest of the world to get the good word. So what if nothing from their last album, 2013’s Bankrupt!, didn’t get featured in a commercial? Phoenix doesn’t make hit songs, they make Phoenix songs, it’s just that Phoenix songs happen to be pretty great.
That case continues on their sixth studio album, Ti Amo. While Bankrupt! featured influences ranging from the eastern club scenes to 80s synth-pop, Ti Amo has a brighter New Wave sound to it with a hint of Europop flavor. The likes of “J-Boy,” the title track, and “Tuttifrutti” sound like modern disco tracks with heavy synthesizers backing the bouncy drum beats.
The title track sounds like Blondie fed through a Chvrches filter, while “Tuttifrutti” has a lower-organ riff but has a progression similar to The 1975’s “The Sound.” “Goodbye Soleli” and “Via Veneto” have a mixes of Goth and funk to its bright yet haunting organ leads and frontman Thomas Mars’s vocals soaked in vocoder effects. The album keeps at a smooth, danceable pace save for the occasional slow jam like “Fior Di Latte” and “Lovelife.” It’s a strong candidate for being the cool party album of the summer, nothing incredibly exciting but has a cool, cruise-ready vibe to it.
Phoenix have always been a band of hopeless romantics, skinny guys in wrinkled collared shirts just looking to dance the night away with someone. So it makes sense that their new album is the Italian phrase for “I love you.”
The album’s lyrics set-up sweeping hipster romantic fantasies, like the title track’s thoughts of “Switching unsophisticated soft rock/To Beethoven’s Concerto” or “Tuttifrutti” and it’s passionate desire to “Sell the gold, silverware/Burn the rest and melt with me.” It’s not entirely roses and sunshine, as “Lovelife” muses on the the things one didn’t say after a relationship ends (“So let me control, regret that I broke our thing/Now somebody took my apology”) and “Goodbye Soleli” has a protagonist venting about the little things he misses about a lost love (“Why I cherish the things you don’t/But just a second, that’s all I want”).
At the close with “Telefono,” the lover who’s spent an entire album painting a glorious romantic fantasy for the woman he loves wanting to get off of the phone with him, millions of miles away in Hollywood and wondering, “How can I sleep when you’re wide awake?” A little too on the nose for Thomas Mars, husband to director Sofia Coppola.
Maybe that’s what Ti Amo is: a heartfelt, longing love letter from a man expressing his love with a combination of his music and his love’s family-infused passion for Italian cinema. Despite the bittersweet undertones, the album keeps its fun, breezy feel throughout its 36 minute runtime. It’s the most low-key of Phoenix albums since their 2000 debut, United, and a welcome shift to a sound that’s more intimate.
Phoenix has enjoyed the brief moment in the spotlight that they’ve earned, blasting through their suped-up pop/alt-rock in Madison Square Garden. But now that they’e finally come down to Earth, it’s interesting to hear that the band is looking inward. It seems that they want to take a journey in their own heads, and fortunately they want to bring everyone with them. It’s hard to think of a better way to spend the summer.