Phoenix / Wolfgang Amadeus 12 inch
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At one point in the schlocky 1975 musical comedy Lisztomania, Roger Daltrey whips out an absurdly large phallus and no less than five women simultaneously straddle it like a cannon. It's as insane as it sounds. In the movie, Daltrey plays Franz Liszt, the 19th century Hungarian pianist and composer known for his flamboyant playing style-- hysterical women fought over his handkerchiefs at concerts more than a century before the Beatles. Whereas Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's music represented all things respectable and classicist, Liszt was a Romantic hero full of flash; Amadeus won eight Oscars, Lisztomania boasts lines like, "Your big ambition was to stick your working-class cock up a piece of high-class crumpet." With their fourth album, Phoenix reference both composers and hone in on an elusive target somewhere between Mozart's formal wonders and Listz's dramatic flair. While the album's 10 songs are arranged and executed with virtuoso pop-rock precision, they chronicle nothing but angst, confusion, disappointment, and despair. It's truly universal-- everybody live, love, and die.
Much of the album's internal conflict is laid out in its first couple lines. "So sentimental; not sentimental, no!/ Romantic; not disgusting yet," sings frontman Thomas Mars on opener "Lisztomania", sounding like a madman with two tiny creatures whispering into each ear. Mars keeps this treacherous divide in mind throughout Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, and the rest of the record successfully avoids mush while keeping its beating heart intact. And the issue of thematic directness is especially important to Phoenix-- this is an established indie band writing songs about love that are armed with hooks primed for a mainstream embrace. Just listen to the invincible crescendo of Wolfgang's "Countdown"-- especially that little Coldplay-esque piano twinkle about three and a half minutes in-- and realize that these guys are a few Chris Martin-isms away from staggering ubiquity. They're a bona fide "should be bigger" band.