Phoenix is back!
Does anything more really need to be said?
I remember exactly where I was when I first heard them. It was sophomore year in college and I was sitting on the couch/bed in my friend’s too tiny studio apartment along a Boston street that was lined with apartments that were almost exclusively populated with students. By day there would be a constant stream of youth ebbing and flowing in either direction. By night, the road was littered with these same bodies in various states, altered ones most of the time.
This friend of mine was my musical Svengali for many years. I’ve talked shop and traded recommendations with many confidants and casual acquaintances over the years but no one even comes close to this kid’s track record when it comes to knowing quality jams.
It was still early evening. I had come over to his place before we were to meet up with some friends later and, in the course of going over the merits of the various albums we had recently downloaded or shows we’d seen, he played me this one track that he came across on YouTube. It was 1901.
I was floored. So I did what any young and dumb obsessive would do. I listened to the track dozens of times and got the download. Then I got all the records. I saw the band live. I even applied for an internship at their record label, a decision mostly driven by the quality of artists on their roster, Phoenix being the paramount. Full disclosure: I got it.
My obsession with the music Phoenix makes isn’t as feverish as it once was. The honeymoon period has passed, as they say, and I’ve moved on. But not completely. Since that time, my relationship with the sounds those French dudes made is now mostly nostalgia and added dimensions. It takes me back to a time and a place and a feeling of who I was.
And now we have this new thing. Entertainment is as the name implies. Everything in the track is glistening and hard edged. Steroidal? Maybe. The guitars are buzzing, almost at a full-throated roaring. The drums might have the precision of a machine though these beats aren’t programmed with touch pads but in fact they’re bashed out with sticks attached to a pair of human arms. Yes, there’s heart in this tune! I’ll admit, it took me a bit to warm to this when I first heard it because it took me a while to realize this myself. The pristine nature and craftsman-like composition of the track might fool you into thinking this is just an exercise in form and function. But Thomas Mars’ voice cracks through the mix and gets right to the emotional core.
Show them what you do with me
When everyone here knows better
What I once refused to be
Is everything they long together
I’d rather be alone.”
This is what elevates high value musical craft to that next level. So many acts just try to make you move, make you dance, take you out of yourself for a minute with melodicism and high tempos and bone-shaking percussion. That’s all well and good. But what about the stuff that tries to get to you at a deeper level while doing that same thing? To move you while you move? I have no problem with the likely ubiquity of this track in the coming days, weeks, and months. Yeah, I’ll tire of it, eventually. But I don’t think I’ll be letting it slip away for a long, long time.
Phoenix is back.
Does anything more really need to be said.