Phoenix - Alphabetical LP
Alphabetical is Phoenix's second album, trailing their debut by nearly four years. It's much less of a mishmash than its predecessor, basing itself around the group's soft, cunningly arranged pop that occasionally reaches beyond '70s AM and '80s sophisti-pop to slip in discreet traces of hip-hop. During their time away, Phoenix became much more proficient as synthesists; certain moments on 2000's United seemed to signal, "Here's where we declare our love of country music," or "Here's the song where we try to sound exactly like Todd Rundgren." This issue has been fixed; the seams that bind their inspirations are now less visible. They're also much better songwriters now, but the lack of variation -- in tempo and in sound -- nearly wipes out the positives by leaving the album with a sluggishness. It's particularly troublesome if you're not in a very specific mood (not simply laid-back, but a kind of laid-back) and want to stay there for the duration of the listen. The album would've benefited from a song or two with the vigor of United's "Too Young" and "If I Ever Feel Better" to break up the monotony; and tracks three through 11 are nowhere near the high level of tracks one and two, making the album drag all the more as it plays out. If not a qualified across-the-board improvement, Alphabetical is at least a good record by a group with plenty of unrealized potential. Perhaps they should stick to singles.