If you are unfamiliar to the world of Italian disco, Phoenix have a treat for you with their new album, Ti Amo. Right from the first trio of songs, you’re transported to a warm summer night on light-up dance floors and under a disco ball inside a fantasized European club, with the pastel paint peeling off the walls and Phoenix’s name and heart stamped above the doorway.
While this album doesn’t entirely feel like a natural progression from Bankrupt!, it has the trademark sheen that the French band has displayed on record and in their live shows for nearly two decades now. Bankrupt! felt like they were trying a little too hard to recapture the stunning pop sound on Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, a landmark album that felt effortless despite its urgency, even up to the point where they wrote another extended instrumental a la “Love Like a Sunset”. It’s amazing how meticulous this band is with their writing and recording – you can download a two hour “snippet” of Bankrupt! sketches along with their previous album and own a cassette tape of sketches from this album. Ti Amo fortunately feels like somewhat of a reset, despite the same amount of attention and effort, but focusing more on nailing the mood instead of nailing the notes.
The live performances behind the new record thus far have ranged from their bombastic, mirrors-and-lights festival headlining sets, to a more intimate, dinner table chic, the latter being the method for writing and demoing the new record, according to the band. Both ways equally do justice to the sleek tones and instrumentation throughout the album – the bubbling synths on “Fior De Latte”, bouncing rhythm of “Tuttifrutti”, the dream state of “Role Model”, the prickly guitar giving way to grandeur on lead single “J-Boy”. “Goodbye Soleil” should be the perfect soundtrack to your Summer 2017 sunsets (not just because of the name), and “Telefono” closes the album with a straightforward pop jam very similar to Wolfgang, but with vintage French narration that would fit in a Sofia Coppola film. It really says something that these songs sound just as good in either performance setting. Really, Phoenix’s songs would sound great if performed floating down a river in Paris. With this album, the band adds some formidable songs to their live repertoire, which should make them even more of a must-see at festivals and arenas.
I think it’s fair to say that “love” as a theme has become such an overdone trope in music, and there are definitely moments on this record that don’t feel right. “Ti Amo” has a dark, undeniable groove, but also the questionable line, “Open up your legs/Don’t tell me no”. The band insists the song and the album are more innocent than it reads, in response to a lot of pushback to the single: “’Ti Amo’ is a romantic song about the tragedy of unreciprocated love and desire – 100% lover-0% violence”. The rest of the album seems so entirely obsessed with maintaining that balance, with Mars longing for the girl with whom he has fallen in unrequited love. He asks “Wouldn’t you love a lovelife?” on the aptly-titled “Lovelife”, and sings on the closing track, “Non posso vivere/Troppo bisogno di te/Wish you decided to stay” (I can not live/I need you too much/Wish you decided to stay). By the end, it feels a bit tired, both in theme and instrumentation. The helpless lover can only spend so much time longing. But ultimately, there is enough saccharine in the rest of the album to forgive the obsession and get lost in the breezy, summery tones.
Right from the first trio of songs, you’re transported to a warm summer night on light-up dance floors and under a disco ball inside a fantasized European club, with the pastel paint peeling off the walls and Phoenix’s name and heart stamped above the doorway.