BioIn 2000, Phoenix’s first album release, United, blazed across the musical skies like a newly discovered comet. Paris, London, L.A. and New York were all captivated, with everyone from Sofia and Roman Coppola to Air heaping praise on them. And with good cause: great songs, great performances, great production and attention to detail. Powered by tracks like “Too Young” (which was featured on the Lost In Translation soundtrack), “Honeymoon” and “If I Ever Feel Better”, critics hailed United a brilliant début, an album that one UK critic described as …“undoubtedly the best post-French house, seventies country-rock concept album of modern love songs you’re ever likely to hear”
For Alphabetical, Phoenix have once again given birth to a mutant, drawing on a range of disparate influences to create an idiom that is both coherent and profoundly original. Phoenix’s four members – Thomas Mars (vocals), Christian Mazzalai (guitar), Laurent Brancowitz (guitar) and Deck d’Arcy (bass) closeted themselves away in their Paris studio, determined to create a recording at once more complete and more personal than United. They operated as a true collective, a symbiosis in which each member was equally responsible for the lyrics, music, performance, arrangements and production. They were adamant that, at every stage of the album’s production, they do their utmost to retain their artistic signature, even if it meant allowing certain imperfections and accidents to make it into the final mix. Speaking of which Tony Hoffer (who has worked with Air, Turin Brakes, Beck, The Thrills) was brought on board to add his technical prowess to the final mixing – he was able to add a new dimension to the group’s already well-marinated production.
The album opens with a bang: “Everything Is Everything” is the happy lovechild of a radical beat and brilliant songwriting, while “Run, Run, Run” is a highly improbable collision between folk guitar and a pounding hip hop beat. Phoenix have the knack of flawlessly unifying the seemingly incompatible. “I’m An Actor” ushers in a radical change of tone: a monologue from the mouth of an actor drunk on power that progressively becomes a furious, megalomaniacal rant. Jagged guitars, offbeat rhythms, all conjure up a sense of imbalance. The atmosphere is heavy; the sense of uneasiness immediately palpable and the apotheosis comes in the form of a deluge of powerful chorals that lends the track an undeniably epic, even heroic, dimension. Considering the band are French natives, Phoenix have a rare mastery of the lyric, words entwining themselves around and within, yet always at the service of the song. As the band themselves note:
“We took a lot of trouble to make sure that the lyrics were honest and the emotions true, even at the risk of sometimes painful introspection. We wanted to avoid losing focus, the sort of ‘catalogue of styles’ thing. So we ended up being very selective both in choosing and arranging the tracks. We tried to free ourselves of everything artificial, preferring unmediated energy and total honesty in performance. But by the same token we wanted the work to remain supple, sophisticated and above all really unique and celebratory; when it comes down to it, the only thing that you want to happen once people have listened all the way through is for them to listen to the whole thing again!”
The US edition of Alphabetical will include a bonus “making of” movie enhancement.