Summer is here and Phoenix have returned with a set of pop songs determinedly celebrating vacationing on the beach and the joys of love and romance.
The sixth album by the French quartet, Ti Amo, is pop music in its purest form, and it’s intended as much. Described by Phoenix as their most romantic album to date, Ti Amo is fast and direct, and heralds an escape to the joys and of summer, vacation, and the excitement of new love. It’s a too deliberately crafted record designed for summer fun, time spent on a beach, or chasing a partner in a disco. There are fun and deliciously upbeat tracks on Ti Amo, qualities Phoenix have honed well over nearly two decades recording, and easier to digest for those fans and listeners put off by the length and seriousness of 2013’s Bankrupt.
At its core, Ti Amo is a fun record recorded amidst attacks on pop music, from inception after the Bataclan to release after Manchester. Those are connections not entirely unique to Phoenix, and the latter its less relevant to the album than the former but worthy of considering the pop music Phoenix offers in rejection of those that would literally attack pop music. Throughout the album, the common theme of romance and fun is supplemented by musical cues that are not necessarily repeated in different tracks but document the influences Phoenix incorporated into the record. Opener “J-Boy", “Fior di Latte", “Goodbye Soleil", and “Telefono” are the album’s tentpole tracks, each invigorating the album’s pace and mood. Situated between these memorable tracks, songs like “Tuttifrutti” and “Fleur de Lys” carry similar style and mood, but simply don’t deliver the same pop hooks and impact.
Recorded in Paris following the November 2015 attack on the Bataclan, this noted detail helps to understand the approach and pop sensibilities of the album. If possible, the uplifting mood of Ti Amo demonstrates a reaction against becoming overwrought with fear and terror, particularly when directed at the enjoyment that comes with listening to pop music. That reaction to a distinctly dark alternative with bright, summer fun qualities of pop music represents what Phoenix have done best through their career -- delivering music that feels good for the sake of it. Human connections and the excitement of romance and love are constant on Ti Amo, but any real world note to the fictional world depicted in the album is absent.
Songs reference the mood of Paris and Europe following multiple attacks and fear endured in the past couple of years, with “Role Model” bringing riots into the album’s summer vibe and overall vacation tone. Those references deserve better presence on the album, at least because they informed the band’s recording and deliberate celebration of pop music generally and romance specifically. But, the album’s strength is not what is missing. It is the band’s steadfast maintenance of their influences from pop music, smooth arrangements, and delicately written (and cinematic) images of vacation and summer.
Ultimately, Ti Amo is a quality Phoenix record with catchy songs, an uplifting mood, and a breezy running time that will invite easy repeats sitting on a beach or imagining you were. It sits nicely within the band’s discography and will no doubt be remixed with ease and contribute to summer playlists.