Phoenix, "Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix"

June 9, 2009


The fourth album by Phoenix opens with a track called "Lisztomania" that seems to underscore that the giddy rush of a good pop phenomenon is timeless, whether we're talking about this uber-hip French dance-rock band or the crazed fans who filled orchestra halls to hear Franz Liszt in the 1800s. "A Lisztomania/Think less but see it grow... From the mess to the masses," croons frontman Thomas Mars, a.k.a. director Sofia Coppola's baby daddy. And after three previous disc that paled in comparison to the best of Air, whom Phoenix sometimes backed in concert, the band has finally produced an album that delivers that kind of promised excitement.

With the recent release of "Manners," the debut album by the Boston band Passion Pit, it's shaping up to a great summer for modern updates on synth-heavy '80s disco. If Passion Pit bring a bit more personality and soul to the proceedings, while Mars and company seem like the somewhat aloof Europeans they no doubt are, standout tracks such as "Lisztomania," "1901" and "Lasso" nonetheless deliver inspired grooves and memorable melodies, while more trance-like interludes such as "Love Like a Sunset" (parts one and two) evoke a combination of Roxy Music circa "Avalon" and the band's mentors in Air, and that's not a bad thing at all.

Black Eyed Peas, "The E.N.D"

Ever since their calculated reinvention from a politically conscious, bargain-basement version of the Roots into a pop-conscious, genre-blurring hip-pop combo circa "Elephunk" (2003), their third studio album but first with Stacy Ferguson on vocals, the Black Eyed Peas have been the modern equivalent of those '70s cartoon bands like Josie and the Pussycats and the Banana Splits, devoted to sugary hooks, silly lyrics and lowest-common-denominator dance grooves. Heaven help us if we had to listen to Fergie sing without the benefit of auto-tune; Apl.De.Ap and Taboo are two of the least impressive rappers on top of the pop charts and as the group's musical mastermind, rarely has encountered a cliché he's failed to embrace. Yet these are precisely the reasons why their brand of bubblegum has been impossible to resist.

The band is not infallible: Things go wrong whenever the musicians try to get serious, and they've been doing it more of late, most notably with's 2008 ode to Barack Obama, "Yes We Can," and his attempts to compare himself to Bob Dylan (though you have to admire the audacity there, and hope he realizes how funny that it is). On the follow-up to "Monkey Business" (2005), the heavy-handed "message songs" occasionally drag the proceedings down, belying the acronym behind the title ("The Energy Never Dies"). Witness the dreadful stab at teenybopper punk, "Now Generation" and the would-be "We Are the World"-anthemic "One Tribe." Ugh.

Thankfully, these missteps--as well as some of the admitted filler the band included to allow interactive fan remixes via the Web down the road--can easily be excluded for the iPod play list in favor of a new batch of gleefully stupid, undeniably joyous party-hearty anthems in the tradition of "My Humps" and "Let's Get It Started": "Boom Boom Pow," "I Gotta Feeling," "Electric City," "Ring-a-Ling" and best of all "Party All the Time" which advises that, "If we could party all night and sleep all day and throw all of our problems away/Our lives would be eee-a-zee." Now tell me that's not a message we all could use these days.