The biggest and best French rock band ever has proved that you can still go pop on the strength of cagey songcraft and retro-rock sophistication. “Champagne or prosecco?” frontman Thomas Mars offers over a New Wave mirror-ball glide on the title track of their sixth LP, before dropping references to the Buzzcocks, soft rock and that venerable old-school smoothie Beethoven.
2013 LP Bankrupt! seemed to pull back a bit from the
spit-polished bounce of their wondrous surprise hits “1901” and “Lisztomania.”
This time out, they’re heavy into mellow Seventies sunshine, with major
ELO/10cc/Steely Dan overtones. “J-Boy” is posh, pouty disco kicks
impacted with lyrics about lovers like “kamikazes in a hopeless
world.” And “Fior Di Latte” is sad-hearted yacht-soul splendor.
Phoenix are at their most fun when they’re writing in the margins of pop
history: The glowing electro ballad “Lovelife” is the AM radio smash
Kraftwerk never had, while “Telefono” suggests the Doobie Brothers as
indie-pop Continentals. Even when you can’t tell what Mars is singing about
(which is a lot), the music radiates a suave majesty that feels universal.