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Phoenix: Alphabetical



Album: Alphabetical
Label: Astralwerks

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Like Air doing morning sit-ups after a night of loungey repose, the French rock band Phoenix gets its blood moving best when priming the pump of a pop heart. On its 2000 debut, United, the group resurrected the riches of the AOR '70s, hinting toward the elaborate melodies of Steely Dan and the kind of muted guitar arpeggios made into manna by Fleetwood Mac. The mix struck a balance between pose and pleasure, sounding both put-upon and gooey enough to return the crush of Sofia Coppola, who used the band's "Too Young" in Lost In Translation.

On Alphabetical, Phoenix sounds more easygoing, but no less fastidious. "Everything Is Everything" comes gleaming out of the gate with a mix of bright guitar chords, tingling cymbal accents, and lispy vocals that sound at home in the verse as in the chorus. "Run Run Run" makes the more aerobically charged Air link explicit with a simple acoustic-figure tumbled through in waltz-time. Steely Dan allusions show up in "If It's Not With You," which lays doo-wop backing vocals over a warm electric-piano patch.

Tasty bait for those who like their pop glitzy and expensive, Alphabetical is the kind of album that proves perfect when it's playing and hard to recall when it's not. Plentiful highlights—the electronically washed Motown clip of "Holdin' On Together," the Dr. Dre piano and dreamy dub of "Victim Of The Crime"—sound fleeting even though they were likely slaved over. Phoenix's breezy method never spikes into anthemic territory, but its sumptuousness marks the mood of open windows and brains on holiday.