Review Summary: Gelato left out in the sun.
The bell curve of Phoenix’s career continues to take shape. Having indisputably peaked with 2009’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
, the band can be counted on to release an album of bright pastels and flowery shirts every few summers like clockwork, somehow remaining, if not entirely relevant, pretty damn cool and bearers of a distinct sound. Wolfgang
came out midway through my college years, and I remember it with, I admit, something of a halo: the rare collision of muscular indie rock, featherweight electro-pop and masterful songwriting, soundtracking a time where nothing could go wrong and the future spread out at my feet. What followed strived mightily to replicate what in retrospect may be impossible heights; like some of my friends who say I peaked in college, 2013’s Bankrupt!
was a shadow of its predecessor. It’s a relatively ace album in any other respect, with some of the band’s best songs, but coming out as it did in the middle of law school, it felt much like I did at the time, working harder to earn a degree that just wasn’t as much fun the second time around. Ti Amo
, the group’s sixth record, is a yacht rock album that sounds like it actually cost a fleet of yachts to make. Lush, decadent, and empty, it’s the sound of me going to work every day and smashing my head into a keyboard, working for the weekend. When the right moments hit, like on the huge chorus of “Fior Di Latte”, you want that moment to stretch on forever, but reality sets in far too quickly. In the case of Ti Amo
, reality is an album besotted with escapism, one that mistakes colorful daydreams for substance.
Phoenix position Ti Amo
as a record that stares down the political upheaval and violence that has pockmarked western Europe over the past few years and dares to dance the night away anyway. “J-Boy” may tell a tale of love set against a timely dystopian backdrop, but that hook is pure, sugary melodrama. Thomas Mars has never been a particularly incisive lyricist, but Ti Amo
is impressive for its commitment to Mars as an unrepentantly carefree and suave cosmopolitan, discussing soft rock tongue-in-cheek or telling a girl at the beach he loves her in four different languages, even when it may get a little creepy. (“Open your legs / don’t tell me no” goes one particular egregious couplet). Unlike past efforts, however, Ti Amo
is jarring for how glossy and smooth everything sounds, the playful, mechanical synths underlining the regretful “Loveline” and the house-baiting melody of “Fleur De Lys” notwithstanding. Where previous records had an ebb and a flow to them, an urgency
, Ti Amo
is a sugar rush from beginning to end, the wonderfully churning guitar of closer “Telefono” tragically obscured by the oversaturated production of the prior nine tracks. “Via Veneto” tries for deeper significance but lacks the emotional gut punch to bring its incongruous tempo to life, while “Role Model”, saddled with a repetitive, mindless chorus, is seemingly big for the sake of being big. But both should sound fairly impressive on the group’s upcoming amphitheater tour, carefully polished and, like the rest of Ti Amo
, made with a delicate care that suggests a band working at the peak of their production skills.
And perhaps that’s all Phoenix want this record to be. For an album inspired by such material pleasures as pistachio gelato and ice cold prosecco, Ti Amo
is a fine celebration of a romantic summer or holiday, best experienced in a mildly drunk blur. Yet Ti Amo
and Phoenix can’t escape the present by diving into Studio 54 worship with “Tuttifrutti” or making like a Phoenix cover band in “Role Model.” The fact is, Phoenix already made the quintessential summer record eight years ago; for all Ti Amo
tries to recapture that magic, the inconsequential sweetness it provides fades as quickly as the delicacy Mars sings about in “Fior di Latte.” The lesson, then: even the rosiest, most numbing nostalgia gives way to reality eventually. Unfortunately for Phoenix and college age me, summers were never forever.