Phoenix wasn’t the only band combining indie rock and synth pop as the first decade of the 2000’s was coming to an end, but for 36 perfect minutes they were the best doing it. Their magnum opus, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, turns 10 years old today, and it remains frozen in time, a stone cold classic of indie pop.
Produced with input from Philippe Zdar (of French house duo Cassius), the Versailles band’s fourth album sounds like a refined, polished version of their previous record, It’s Never Been Like That, while distilling their Strokes and new wave-indebted sound into something far more potent, fluid and original.
There’s the cosmic, pulsing “Fences,” where Thomas Mars sings woozily over glowing synths, predicting the chillwave boom that would soon explode in the early 2010s. Songs like “Girlfriend” and “Rome” remain rousingly uplifting courtesy of Laurent Brancowitz’s glimmering guitar work. The euphoric two-part “Love Like A Sunset” evokes the astral soundscapes of Air for one of the album’s most serene moments.
Then of course there’s the 1-2 punch that opens up the record. First is “Lisztomania,” kicking off with those intertwined, back-and-forth guitars and snapping snares. Referencing the hype surrounding Franz Liszt’s ascent in the 1840s, and tying it to an abandonment of romanticism, the song is as effervescent as it is clever, especially when Mars yells “from a mess to the masses” while the guitars burst from behind plinking keys.
What follows is “1901,” a new-wave strut of synths and guitars that continues pushing forward until that sugar-rush of a chorus, where Mars riotously warns that “it’s 20 seconds till the last call.” It’s brilliantly written, magnificently executed and catchier than a cold.
“Lisztomania” and “1901” alone would have carved Phoenix’s name in the indie rock canon. Yet the individual pieces on Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix shine most brilliantly as a fiercely consistent whole. Ten years later, the album still sounds like a marvel; an effortless classic as witty as it is wise.