August 10, 2004

Phoenix "Alphabetical"

France's place in the annals of pop history is very, very small. Sure, you've got Brel and Gainsborg and Air and Daft Punk and Plastic Bertrand, but quite small is the number of bands and artists who have crossed over to an international audience. Bands like Air and Daft Punk have crossed over simply because their music is instrumental and when it's not, it's most often sung in English. Seems as if many of those bands get pinned down for being French as if their nationality is a gimmick. It doesn't help that these artists have a healthy dose of nationalism and patriotism (wait--patriotism is bad for Americans, okay for the French?) and it's easy to see why a new French band is always treated with some sense of scepticism and doubt.

Such assumptions can be proven wrong, though. I gotta hand it to French popsters Phoenix--they've done a pretty good job of making literate pop music that's suitable for Americans and Europeans alike. Heck, if you didn't know they were French, you'd never guess that they were. Alphabetical's sound is a funky blend of pop and rock, never resting too comfortably in one particular genre; their mixture of 90s British pop and 70s AM radio fare is quite resfreshing. From the funky shuffle of "(You Can't Blame It On) Anybody" and "If It's Not With You" to the mellower grooves of "Holdin' On Together" and "Everything is Everything," Phoenix's pop druthers are obvious, and their devotion to melody is refreshing. When they turn down the tempo on "Love For Granted" and "Alphabetical," lead singer Thomas Mars will quickly win your heart as he pitches his French woo at you.

Simple, pleasant pop music knows no borders, and even though France's political stance in the world may be dodgy, don't hold that against Phoenix. They're a really great little band, and Alphabetical is never anything less than a wonderful musical treat.

--Joseph Kyle

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