Album Review: Phoenix, “Ti Amo”

Written by on June 12, 2017

Title: Ti Amo
Artist: Phoenix
Record Label: Glassnote Entertainment Group LLC
Release Date: June 9, 2017

No matter what genre Phoenix has worked in- soft rock, synth pop, disco- they have done so with a high degree of coolness. It’s effortless coolness too, the kind that charms the listener into forgiving any shortcomings the band may have.

Sure, maybe Thomas Mars doesn’t have the greatest singing voice. And maybe the band’s lyrics often fluctuate between confusing and painfully corny. But over the course of their long career, Phoenix has demonstrated the style and self-awareness to make such details seem almost irrelevant.

The tradition continues on their new album Ti Amo, a record that finds Phoenix pairing sunny pop tunes with lyrics inspired by a romanticized version of Italy- complete with love, drama and gelato.

The album opens with “J-Boy,” easily Ti Amo’s best song. Shiny synths and guitars take the forefront as Mars sings about a blossoming relationship that seems to have begun when the narrator committed petty theft for his love interest. “Something in the middle of the side of the store; got your attention, you would ask for more,” he sings, adding that he was stealing the items “for no reason at all” but he “was excited to be part of your world, to belong, to be lost, to be mostly the two of us.” As captivating as the verses are, it’s the soaring chorus that really solidifies “J-Boy” as a great song.

After that opening track, the Italian theme quickly becomes very evident. Many times on Ti Amo, Mars abandons English and begins singing in Italian. On “Via Veneto,” for example, the majority of the song (including its title, clearly) is Italian. There are other times when the band switches to their native French language, such as in the chorus of “Goodbye Soleil.”

But the Italian theme goes deeper than a few translated choruses. References to Italian culture and historical figures appear throughout the album, most prominently on the title track, which includes lyrics about melted gelato, composers Franco Battiato and Lucio Battisti, and the Festival di Sanremo.

Although the language changes and cultural content ensures that most of Ti Amo remains engaging, there are times when the shiny pop sound gets a little lackluster. “Tuttifrutti” isn’t that great of a song, and the lyrics, in addition to making no sense, aren’t interesting. “Role Model” suffers from similar problems.

But the album ends on a strong note with “Telefono,” a song about the perils of a long-distance relationship. Over a pleasant, laid-back instrumental, Mars plays the part of a jealous Italian man who grows restless as his lover works on a movie in Hollywood. He buys luxury goods to entice her to return early, apologizes for being upset, then becomes paranoid that she’ll leave him for another man on set- perhaps “some executive” or maybe “the lead or just an extra.”

Much like the entire Ti Amo album, “Telefono” reeks of corniness and sentimentality, but because that seems like an intentional decision, it becomes all the more interesting. Phoenix has created a really neat album here.

Black Squirrel Radio