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Listening

Phoenix, Alphabetical

Four years ago Phoenix released their debut album United, a partly ironic, partly dance-y, altogether fascinating Gallic amalgam of funk, pop, and electronica (three gross music words that go well together) that impressed everyone from critics to trainspotters to heshers alike. The sheer range of musical styles seemed more like a dare than a true-to-life songwriting venture. But real it was, and absolutely infectious to boot.

So infectious, in fact, that Phoenix owned the summer of 2000.

And then…nothing. Not a peep or Qua? out of them for four years. Sure, a few remixes surfaced, but nothing that could really tide us over. More recently, the inclusion of one of their old songs on the Lost in Translation soundtrack again whetted our collective appetites. Bob wanted to know what that fantastic music was the kids were listening to when they were out that evening. We just wanted to know when we could get some more.

Now. The too-long-awaited follow-up album, Alphabetical, is finally ready for human consumption, and Phoenix made good on the time they were away. No complaints, no calls for justice, no demands they compensate our time spent pining. No, Alphabetical is an inspired work, a subtle, moving album that shows the pocket of missing time was spent practicing and rethinking. Where United was disjointed and quirky, Alphabetical is smooth and assured. The dancing, rhythmic pulses of their now-classic ‘If I Ever Feel Better’ replaced with the lovely plink-plink guitar-electric piano of ‘Victim of the Crime.’ The rock bravado of the ‘Funky Squaredance’ of yore blown completely out of sight with the delicate melodic strains of Alphabetical’s title track.

Most every track on the new album swoons and sways you in its arms, romancing you with its sweet overtones, its smiles and gentle pushes. It’s more of a whole album, and really more of—dare we say it—a makeout album than could have been expected. That’s right: It puts you in the mood. It heightens your senses. It makes you happy. It never challenges, but it’s in that totally appealing, nonconfrontational manner that the true mark of Alphabetical is found: It’s so very sweet and lovely and all that, that it’s undeniably likable. That they can do all that and still make it sound fresh and new is nothing short of a stunning achievement.

biopic

Andrew Womack is a founding editor of The Morning News. He is always working on the next installment of the Albums of the Year series at TMN. More by Andrew Womack

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