French Letters

Succinct and soothing second album by Parisian quartet

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Phoenix’s first album, United, was a highlight of the end-of-the-century French pop boom, filtering today’s sonics through a retro gauze for perfectly imperfect postmodern results. Its strength lay in the way it tripped between 10cc, jazz-funk, Queen and Californian punk, toying with orchestras, harps, pedal-steel, the whole shebang, in its relaxed search for pop nirvana. One senses that, in retrospect, the band consider this to be a weakness, for they’ve apparently spent the subsequent four years making half an hour of music that stays exactly where it is. Though exactly where that may be is hard to define.

Basically, they’ve binned the Van Halenish guitars and electronic vocals that cropped up on United and settled upon the mellow palette of their hit single “Too Young”, a light sound?close-up vocals over barely electric rock?with stuttering, understated hip hop rhythms and something nicely sloppy and sleepy about the playing. The results are like Bread produced by The Neptunes, especially on the shimmering title track.

First single “Run Run Run” opens with an acoustic guitar riff which hints at Serge Gainsbourg’s Melody Nelson, but its attention-grabbing component is a handclap part which drops half a bar early before the chorus. “Love For Granted” is a drifting beauty borne on a breeze of harmonised voices. “Victim Of The Crime” finishes with a fusillade of over-driven drums. Several songs use a kalimba sound they’ve obviously fallen for. It’s delightfully insidious, the hooks subtle, the lyrics obtuse. And it’s a testament to the care they’ve taken over this stuff that after many listens it remains hard to select either a weak or a standout track. It’s the whole thing?just 31 minutes of music plus a little hidden-track coda?which you want to hear shuffling by agreeably, gently moderating your mood, like some aural Prozac.


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