Astralwerks sure has come a long way since it was known as that label with all the electronica acts on it. Case in point: Phoenix. The Parisian four-piece isn't exactly guitar rock, but it sure ain't techno. Singer Thomas Mars would probably never think
of tainting his buttah-smooth voice with vocoder; that would fuck up the five-part harmonies and distract from the tastefully placed chimes. Likewise, the crispy beat on "Run Run Run" is about the slammin'-est this record gets.
When confronted with a band you just know you'll be seeing on TRL (or at least MTV2) within a year, it's a bit of a job to keep in mind the fact that they still have yet to become sellout pretty-boys. Phoenix's sound is rather... safe. They offer a bit of Steely Dan-esque funk ("Everything is Everything"), some diluted down-hominess ("Alphabetical") and watered-down hip-hop ("Run Run Run"). Mars hardly alters his dispassionate delivery, and while the lyrics aren't horrid (especially considering that English is not this group's first language), they're little more than an alternative to singing the phone book.
However, there are some bands who were just meant to be great pop acts -- pop in the George Michael sense, pop in the Fleetwood Mac sense. Phoenix make music that your mom would like, and it's not a bad thing. At all. True, Alphabetical has its adult-contemporary free-for-alls, but they're mostly relegated to the record's latter half -- and I dare you not to get all nostalgic while grooving out to the Culture Club lilt of "(You Can't Blame It On) Anybody". Phoenix's flair for arrangement and production (which they mostly do themselves) probably could make the phone book sound decent.
Alphabetical's best material appears during its first third. The decorously layered guitar work in "Everything Is Everything", the unexpected but comfortable melodic progression on "Run Run Run", the exultant falsetto harmonies in "I'm an Actor" -- it's pure sugary enjoyment. I hear a whole damn mess of singles.