“Ti Amo,” at first glance, feels like the blinding brightness of a summer day. It’s hot, sweaty and full of life, the promise of carefree days as sweet as the taste of sugar on your tongue. Yet the saccharine taste comes with a pressure to see and do everything. We watch others celebrating at festivals and parties, hanging out on rooftops and watching the hazy orange sunset pierce through the pollution. But is there something underneath that shimmering haze of summer fun? Phoenix explores these questions in all their synthetic glory.
Looking back to such Phoenix albums as “Never Been Like That,” it’s hard to imagine that the French band has come to be known for such a heavy dance sound. As a fan that jumped on the bandwagon with the jangly guitars of such tracks as “Long Distance Call” and “Rally,” it’s taken a bit of adjustment to get into the big synth sound they kickstarted on “Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.” On “Ti Amo,” the band hasn’t backed down a bit. The music oozes with plasticy textures and a wall of drum and bass, enough to please thousands and thousands of festival goers freaking out under the summer sun.
Phoenix lays on the synth work thick on “Ti Amo.” After listening to “Lovelife” only once, I already had the light-as-air arpeggio stuck in my head. Any longing for strummed guitars is soon drowned out by the incessant groove and bubbly textures, the imagery of warm italian vistas blurred by the warm haze oozing out of the songs. On “Tuttifrutti” we are transported to an oceanfront club that seems to exist in a hazy photograph from the 70s. The bass and drums are ripped right out of the soft-rock disco playbook as we get swept into a fantasy vacation with frontman Thomas Mars:
We’ll be trashing motels
Tuttifrutti, it’s all for free
Sell the gold, silverware
Burn the rest and melt with me”
By “Fior Di Latte” I’m amazed I’m listening to a song by that name. Fior di Latte is a soft cheese similar to Italian mozzarella, and the song has some of the same characteristics. It melts easily on your favorite pizza and goes down easy with a beer or a glass of wine. The song is about love-making, and Mars wants the same experience as the taste of cheese on his tongue. Fior di Latte is decadent and just too good to pass up. One could say the same thing about the soft-rock synths of “Ti Amo.”
My favorite is “Goodbye Soleil,” its irresistible groove blurring out the rest of the world as desire becomes our only outlet. Mars sings in both English and French here, the catchiness of the synth lines almost irritating in the way they draw you toward the dance floor. But at this point I’m starting to get concerned. The sunny cheer of the music is beginning to feel like a facade as the unease and insecurity of the world seeps into the picture. On the chorus of “Fleur de Lys,” Mars repeats “No rest till I get to you, no rest till I get to you / No!” Meanwhile, “Goodbye Soleil” documents a restless love, one that seems on the verge of being out of control.
Even as we try to avoid the terror and violence of the world with sunlit vacations, we inevitably succumb to the anxiousness of love. Final track “Telefono” chronicles a long distance love, most likely between Mars and his wife Sofia Coppola. Amidst another catchy groove, the singer laments a life spent far away from his lover:
“I painted the house
Jealousy and worry takes over, soon filling the mind with incessant thoughts:
“I wish you’d call from set
I wish I didn’t get upset
In the end Phoenix seems to be escaping from the madness only to find themselves caught up in it again. There’s no escape from your own head. Worries and fears follow us wherever we go. Though the music of “Ti Amo,” is incessantly cheery to the point of fatigue, at least it’s a nice escape from the gloom that seems to follow us everywhere.