There is exactly one hour each week on MTV or MTV2 that I can stand to watch. It’s called “Subterranean”. I don’t even know what day or time it’s on, it might even change from week to week. All I know is that it is on past my bedtime so our DVR helps me out and records it for me to watch later at my leisure. A few years ago there was a song called “Long Distance Call” by a band called Phoenix played several times on that program and I took note for two reasons. First, the lead singer (at least in that video) looked suspiciously like Jason Schwartzman from one of my favorite flicks, Rushmore. Second, the song was pretty catchy. Three years later,“Subterranean” played a new song by Phoenix called “1901” and I loved it immediately. The song was interesting and original, and the video was one of the best I’ve seen in a while. I set the DVR again when I heard that Phoenix was going to be the musical guest on SNL. After their performance, I decided that the new album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix was worth checking out.
My first listen of this album was on my lunch break one day and by that time I was familiar with “Lizstomania” and had heard “1901” dozens of times. Those two songs are followed by “Fences” and a mostly instrumental suite called “Love Like a Sunset”. I was completely digging it, really happy that I invested $9 in the album. After the album finished, I was really confused. Why wasn’t I as happy after the album was finished as I was at the halfway point?
Well, it’s because Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is the worst sequenced album in recent memory. With all the best songs out of the way, what is the reason to keep listening? The first five or six songs are amazingly excellent, the rest – not bad, pretty good actually – but nowhere near as good as the others. As an experiment, I listened to Track 6, “Lasso” all by itself, it’s the best of the second half. Then later, the last four songs: “Rome”, “Countdown”, “Girlfriend” and “Armistice”. By themselves, the songs stand up, but it sounds so anticlimactic hearing them after how good the first songs are.
“1901” is easily the best song on the album and one of the best I’ve heard all year. I love everything about it, down to the amazingly placed cymbal crash. Click here to see the video I was talking about earlier, it’s really good. Or listen to the song below.
“Fences” is the song that immediately follows “1901”. Its got a space disco vibe going on and sung in a falsetto like you would expect Justin Timberlake to use (full disclosure: I sort of like him.) It wouldn’t sound out of place at a dance club. I really like it, except for the awkward fade out at the end.
I wonder how I would feel about this album if the tracklisting was different. Since I am too lazy to rearrange them and listen to it again, I guess we will never know. I can enjoy it the way it is, it’s just a little disappointing. Unlike Dirty Projectors, I would like to (eventually) delve deeper into the back catalog.
3 3/4 stars. (First five songs = 5 stars)