Monday, December 26, 2016
Phoenix -- Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
It's been almost five years since I've visited Pitchfork.com, and I'm not sure if it's even still a thing. I've written a lot of negative things about Pitchfork in the past, and I believed and still believe all of them. I guess at the end of the day, Pitchfork is a business (if it's still around), and it has to back up its business. I almost forgot they existed, but this review is inextricable from my too-cool-for-school music review website experience. But let's back it up.
I saw Phoenix on SNL in 2009. They performed "Lisztomania" and "1901," thought the songs were great, and loved the band's positive energy. I knew that the album the songs were from, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, was receiving critical praise, and I picked it up at Best Buy for a low, low price. Those two SNL songs kick off the album, and are basically bouncy pop-rock, full of fun, weightless lyrics. They third song is a slower, semi-disco track. Four and five are basically one long song, a keyboard-based instrumental buildup with a gentle vocal coda. I'll note here that, as far as I know, Phoenix performed this album as a four-piece, playing keyboard, bass, and guitar, and a drum-machine performed the drum parts. No drummer is credited. These four guys carve out a signature sound, and it becomes apparent by the halfway point, sixth track, "Lasso," that this sound is extremely limited. Vocalist, Thomas Mars, has a certain cadence and rhythm, and a certain group of notes he likes to sing. It doesn't vary on Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Tracks five through ten show that the band have a certain thing they can do, and that they did it best on the first two tracks. The last five tracks are essentially B-grade reinterpretations of those two songs.
I've long held the opinion that many modern music reviewers listen to an album's first few tracks, turn it off, review it, then throw on the next one. I am fairly certain that Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix's many "album-of-the-year" accolades came from reviewers who did just that. After quickly reaching a wall in my own listening of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, I fled to those positive reviews to try to find out how to enjoy the rest of it. Pitchfork did that typical thing they always do where they ignore the best, often most popular songs, and talk about deep-album cuts as if they are the true standouts. This would seem to counteract my initial statement, but Pitchfork's praise of these songs was often complete gibberish, nonsense showcasing the reviewers' large vocabularies. I found no solace in this gibberish. The other reviews did the general, "mention the first couple of songs" thing, and that was it. I then decided on my own that Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix would work great as an EP, ending at track five. As a ten-track album, it reveals Phoenix as a band with some pretty unfortunate limitations. I think the fact that no one has heard from them since proves this point. Outside of a 2013 album that the previously mentioned reviewers couldn't even pretend to be interested in--and why would they? Praising it wouldn't raise their cool points, so why do it?--they've been silent.
This experience from seven years ago planted a seed in me to start writing my own music reviews (though I had written some scattered reviews before, as well as made end-of-the-year lists). I was disgusted by the little effort put into reviews by major publications like Rolling Stone (the "just listen to the beginning and the singles" approach), and even more disgusted by the trendy ("we're too good for anything, except what you won't get"), tone-deaf approach of Pitchfork. Why not write my own reviews? I decided I'd shoot for two things: objectivity and honesty. Objective in that I want to review the music I am reviewing, and not its cool-factor and lack thereof, and honesty in how certain factors may influence my ability to be objective.
Objectively, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix starts off great, then repeats itself in weaker and weaker variations, till it squeaks to a close. Honestly, the fact that the album received numerous accolades, despite being quite average, may be why I have only given it a five instead of a six or a seven. Whatever the case, this review is yet more proof that I like to talk about myself far more than I like to actually review anything.
1. Lisztomania 4:08
2. 1901 3:13
3. Fences 3:45
4. Love Like a Sunset (Part I) 5:39
5. Love Like a Sunset (Part II) 1:57
6. Lasso 2:48
7. Rome 4:38
8. Countdown 3:57
9. Girlfriend 3:24
10. Armistice 3:05