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Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix Charles Ubaghs , May 27th, 2009 12:32

French band Phoenix took a sharp turn towards the tried and tested with the release of their third album, It's Never Been Like That, in 2006. Where once they delighted in toying with what was at the time slightly gauche early '80s pop (2000's United) and white boy R&B (2004's Alphabetical), the band decided to replace their perversely kitsch guitar tones and soft rocking beats with a sound that reeked of the moment; that 'moment' being a stab at milquetoast power-pop that looked towards the likes of The Strokes for its cues.

In commercial terms, it proved to be a success of sorts for the band. Many now view It's Never Been Like That as Phoenix's breakthrough. But in smoothing out the retro kinks that once endeared them to the fashionable set, part of the band's early charm was lost in translation.

Now, they're back with the rather awkwardly named Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Bloggers may have already spent the past few months salivating over the indie fuzz of early single '1901', but the song's heavy use of synths and singer Thomas Mars' new-wave croon revealed little about the album's direction.

It turns out Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix lies somewhere between the quirky thrust of the band's debut and the prosaic thud of their third LP. 'Lisztomania', the lead single and album opener, is an homage to Hungarian composer Franz Liszt (or at the very least the 1975 Ken Russell film of the same name) that ingratiates itself via a framework of propulsive pop-rock. Coupled with '1901', the two songs offer up an energetic one-two opening punch of perfectly affable guitar pop. It's a formula that repeats itself throughout the album with the radio friendly indie of 'Lasso' and 'Rome' looking set to perk up the ears of eager marketeers over the coming months.

Yet for all of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix's 'My Sharona'-by-way-of-the-bistro appeal, only the instrumental 'Looks like a Sunset Part 1' and its follow-up 'Part 2', which borrows liberally from Eno's 'On Some Faraway Beach', offer a glimpse of the band who once crafted 'Funky Squaredance' — the epic, nine-minute aural workout from their debut that veered from auto-tuned country to early '80s hip-hop beats, cock-rock guitar solos and icy robot funk.

Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is certainly an improvement upon its predecessor and it's likely to send the Gallic quartet hurtling towards the mainstream's affections after years of operating on its peripheries. It's a move the lean men of Phoenix may well be looking forward to, but with it comes the sobering realisation that their mischievous joie de vivre now appears to be lost for good.