Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

Phoenix's return is driven by an irresistible creative urgency on Alpha Zulu

"Alpha Zulu"

Release date: 04 November 2022
Phoenix Alpha Zulu Album Artwork
04 November 2022, 16:10 Written by Simon Heavisides

Describing a band as underrated may sometimes be meaningless when it’s evident they’ve accrued a reasonable level of sales and critical approval.

However, when it comes to Phoenix it does seem their particular ability to craft sophisticated pop, with just a smidgeon of rock to roughen the edges, is a little taken for granted.It could be that the ‘pop-rock’ field is simply perennially under-valued, leaving their skills beneath the radar and drawing attention away from the uniqueness of the Phoenix sound.

Tracing a career arc beginning with a debut that set out the band’s artistic stall in its first four tracks, before careering off into something close to self indulgence (a mistake they didn’t repeat), along the way delivering the cast iron modern pop masterpiece that was the cheekily irreverent Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Now, after two good to very good albums, where does that leave the post pandemic entry in their cannon, Alpha Zulu?

The phrase, wrongly interpreted as a call for help, was inspired by a traumatic flight experience, but in this context seems to be a call for creative urgency and for caution to be thrown to the wind in difficult times. Certainly the titular track manages to combine a ‘so dumb it’s great’ chorus with an underlying feeling of questioning anxiety heightened by a spiralling guitar figure that pushes the song to its ‘blink and you miss it’ conclusion. Can you dance to it? Hell yeah.

And therein lies the sweetly seductive nature of Alpha Zulu: even an elegiac beauty like “The Only One” spins on a sweetly comforting groove, while at the other end of the sonic spectrum the driving “All Eyes on Me” boasts staccato beats and synth stabs with a distinctly acidic flavour. Anger may be an energy but so is anxiety and confusion and what better solution than to dance it off?

But then, for all that, perhaps the quiet heart of Alpha Zulu lies in the becalmed beauty of “Winter Solstice,” a song that swims deep in a warm tristesse before leaving us staring out at the ocean pleading for, “something positive.” Through it all, Thomas Mars’ vocals maintain a feeling of warm reassurance as his lyrics bounce from the cryptically surreal to something more obviously direct.

Recorded in a museum against the backdrop of a Covid altered world and in the wake of the tragic death of much loved friend and collaborator Philippe Zdar; Alpha Zulu confronts reality with a dreamy neon-lit elegance pulsing with playful vitality, it runs on its nerves but has its feet on the dance floor. Right now, that sounds perfect to me.

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