I don't think I've ever unsuccessfully wanted to love an album more. Put simply, The Classic Crime is one of my favorite bands. I was excited to see what they could do when they were free of a record label. But no, Phoenix left me feeling hollow. The second half felt uncomfortably bloated. Matt MacDonald sounded restrained and tired. Every song strove for perfection, but there was never that elusive something that put the good songs over the top. So I put this on the shelf, hoping that everyone else was right and that I just hadn't discovered the album's magic, but I'd get it eventually. “Maybe it's a grower,” I thought. But no. I'm still disappointed.
No song shows the album's failed potential like “Heaven and Hell.” It's as grandiose as its title implies, slowly building to a long, drawn-out climax that has almost zero emotional impact. MacDonald comes close to showing genuine emotion as he belts “We are the heirs to every throne, we wander far from what we've known,” but these lyrics, as poetic and mature as they might be, lack the personality and intimacy of past albums, and the forced nature of the songwriting derails a potentially fantastic song.
But this is followed by the one song that TCC unquestionably nails: “The Precipice.” This delicate track slowly adds instruments to a memorable and emotionally poignant mix, fueled by MacDonald's fittingly vulnerable musings: “I dreamt I stood on a hill that I wished was a mountain/ to look back on all my accomplishments/ well, they must have been small, 'cause I couldn't seem to find them/ so I took a leap off of the precipice.” It is here that MacDonald seems the most sincere, and the band puts in their best effort to avoid the frustrating formulae that plague the rest of the album.
And that's when it hits me. Youth. That's what this album is missing, the elusive something. The exaggerated emotional highs and lows. The romance that ranged from endearingly awkward to the beautifully sincere. The Silver Cord and Albatross had youth in spades. Vagabonds started to show signs of growing up. Phoenix finds itself caught up in the dreariness of adulthood. It adheres to the tried-and-true formulae so rigidly that it forgets that greatness comes from taking risks. "The Precipice" takes those risks and bucks the formula; "Heaven and Hell" can't turn away from it. And that lack of youth is what ultimately cripples Phoenix.
One could say that the “simpler” tracks are more successful, since youthfulness and simplicity often go hand in hand. And one would be half-right: “You And Me Both” is infectious and anthemic, and “What I'd Give Up” is a surprise gem, thanks to a fantastically catchy chorus. But then there's the irritatingly repetitive “Dead Rose,” the forgettable “Painted Dreams,” and the awkward hodgepodge of catchy and faux-epic that is “Glass Houses" -- the frustrating attempts of someone past their prime trying to fit in with the kids they once were.
The Classic Crime is still The Classic Crime, and this album is far from unlistenable. Even the weaker songs have some redeeming quality. But Phoenix is an album of growing pains, an unpleasant transition from the glory days to either future greatness or bland conformity. The Silver Cord, in particular, covered a huge swath of the emotional spectrum, and succeeded as a result, even when it flirted dangerously with being corny. Phoenix finds the band wallowing in the negative end of that spectrum, without reaching either the cathartic bottom or breaking out to glorious highs for fear of embarrassment. And it's that malaise, that lethal combination of too much effort and too much fear, that makes this album only good instead of great.
i know this is months late but I was listening to this and I just had to write about it. I have no idea if this review will ever come close to capturing how I truly feel about this album, or if I could ever put those feelings into words. But hey. I tried.
I like the review and am somewhat inclined to agree. I think upon relisten, this would hit a 3.5 because I remember it feeling a bit bloated.
What has to be done with the review is switch paragraphs 3 and 4. Personally, I'd do Paragraphs 4, 2, 3 but this doesn't flow with your intro (it's largely negative, so you don't want your first point to be positive, unless you have some qualifier like: "In all of Phoenix, TCC nails one song"). so 2, 4, 3 is fine too.
The reason is I found a really, really stark contrast between "Heaven and Hell" and "The Precipice" that, imo, forms the crux of your review. Heaven and Hell is great but lacks that extra oomph, that sincerity, that whatever, which happens to be present in The Precipice. You want the compare and contrast there, which becomes apparent through paragraph ordering. Paragraph 3 (about the other songs) naturally flows after 4, so that's not a problem.
Beyond that, this is a good review and I will pos; however, to take the idea from your review, I think you have a good review but you could have made it great. I really wish you kept the premise that the album lacks that "something." The conclusion is good emphasis for this---you start talking about how Phoenix lacks the emotional breadth of the previous albums, which is fair enough, but then you talk about youthful naivete that doesn't really match the flow of your review.
Anyways this is all nitpicky because like I said, this was a good review. But just my 2 cents on how you could make this better/ how you could have made this superb
xtoxin, thanks so much for your advice. I had a hard time writing about this album but you helped me discover what it was about this album that bothered me so much. I really appreciate it.
And thanks, Omaha. I hesitated to give this a 3 because I really enjoy a few tracks on here...a lot...but honestly overall this is a high 3. Like, a 3.24, and I just needed to get over my love for the rest of the band's discography and, well, you can see the results.
Good review, I have no issue with this argument, have a pos. Still my AOTY though.
I think what makes it so attractive to me is the fact that it combines pop sensibilities (catchiness, accessibility) with a legitimate rock backbone, something this does bettern than even Cities in my opinion. And the "failed potential" on Heaven and Hell? I agree that lyrically the song doesn't have quite as much emotional impact as it could, but that one moment at the end of the second verse when everything cuts out but the vocals, and then the vocals cut out, and then that one cymbal tap comes in, and then everything else does, basically makes the song for me. Those few seconds are some of the finest seconds I've heard this year, and the fact that the rest of the song is pretty good as well helps uphold that moment.
"First time I listened to this album, I thought it would go down as one of my all-time favorites. But then, every track after "Let Me Die" happened."
That's how I felt the first time through, too. Except What I'd Give Up.
"Good review. I pos'd, but hesitantly because you focused on the theme of lost youth for 2 whole paragraphs without making a quip about "Young Again.""
I need to work on becoming more like DaveyBoy.
"You dont want this band to mature? Every band grows up at some point"
What xtoxin said. I'd add Yellowcard's latest to that description as well. Their latest had tons of energy but also very noticeable maturation. Southern Air and Ocean Avenue are both definitely Yellowcard tracks, but they're almost completely different approaches lyrically and musically. That's the maturity I like, not the half-hearted vibe that Phoenix gives off.